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Archive for the ‘Pride & Prejudice 1995’ Category

Volz BookInquiring readers,

My apologies to author Jessica Volz–who contacted me weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown about her book–for posting my review of her book several months late. She has been so patient that I must thank her for her graciousness. – Vic Sanborn

The highly interesting and informative Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, is no fast walk in the park as far as reading goes, but it is worth the effort since it is filled with new and insightful information. One cannot skip or skim to learn about the way Austen and female writers of her era used visuality in language to communicate hidden meaning. In order to understand how visual language transmitted women’s emotions, issues, and areas of concern in a patriarchal society, I digested Dr. Volz’s words and reflected on how her observations helped me to reassess my understanding of the hidden language these 18th and 19th century authors used.

In her book, Dr. Volz studied the novels of four authors published between 1778 and 1815. Three of those novelists, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney, enjoyed recognition during Austen’s life, while Austen ultimately found lasting fame as a literary giant. This was a time when women’s views on their rights shifted, greatly helped by the Enlightenment’s campaign for human rights, the influence of the French Revolution in questioning conventional perceptions of women, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary writings. Wollstonecraft wanted male-dominated females to attain power over themselves. While this emancipation would take a longer time than she even envisioned, Wolstonecraft influenced contemporary women authors to employ an approach that “concealed their resistance within an artful narration.” (1. Volz, p. 210.)

Volz’s findings found that in a patriarchal society, when women were expected to behave modestly and correctly and use phrases that were acceptable to their male relatives and husbands, female authors found a linguistic end-around through visual references. They:

…focused on ways their texts reveal the authors’ approaches to issues explored or suggested in the novels, including “women’s difficulties, polite society’s anxieties and the problems inherent in judging by appearances.” – (2. Painting With Words, Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA, 2019.)

Thus, while the novels written by these four authors seemed to outwardly conform to societal standards, their heroines thought for themselves.

While the forms and functions of visuality that women novelists employed to their rhetorical advantage vary, they channeled their thoughts through several distinct visual pathways: visible and ‘invisible’ likenesses, architectural metaphors, the ‘made-up’ social self and communicating countenances.” (Volz, p. 212)

This review discusses some ways in which Dr. Volz examines how Austen employed the forms and functions of visuality. When she sent me her book, she was correct in predicting that I would be the most affected by the chapter that discussed Jane Austen. I’ll start with my first (and still favorite) Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, and Mr. Darcy

While Dr. Volz discusses Pemberley well into Chapter 1, I did not begin to truly understand her analysis of Austen’s visuality until I reached this section. I knew Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite fictional heroine from almost the moment I met her at the age of fourteen. Lady Catherine deBourgh expressed the 18th century attitude towards women when she accused Elizabeth of being obstinate and headstrong. In other words, she was not the right sort of lady, especially not for Mr. Darcy.

On that first reading, I instantly understood that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy were transformed as she walked along the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, viewed the house from afar in its perfect setting, moved throug its exquisite interior, listened to the raptures of his housekeeper as she described her master’s kindnesses, compared a miniature of his youthful self to Mr. Wickham’s (whose actions, as related by the housekeeper, described a cad), and then finally studied a large painted portrait of Mr. Darcy that to Elizabeth seemed true to life and captured her new understanding of his essence.

The architectural metaphors that Volz mentioned explain much in this description of Elizabeth’s leisurely ramble with the Gardiners along Pemberley’s grounds:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Pride and Prejudice)

As she views Pemberley’s grounds, Elizabeth can see herself living in this natural setting as its mistress, but she realizes with some sadness that this is no longer possible. To her regret, she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal based on her first impressions. Now that she sees him through a new lens, she recognizes how much their tastes and inclinations have in common. Moreover, she understands that Darcy, like his estate, Pemberley, has no artifice.

The lack of artifice is also how Mr. Darcy views Elizabeth – early in their association, he admires her expressive eyes and the liveliness of her character, which gave her a natural beauty much like the estate grounds he loves.

But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Austen also emphasized Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s unorthodox, unladylike walk to Netherfield, which “improved her figure’s picturesque quality and intensified the expressiveness of her eyes.” (Volz, p. 60). His appreciation echoes the ideal of the picturesque in writings by Johann Kaspar Lavater (a Swiss physiognomist, philosopher, and theologian) and William Gilpin in his Observations Relating Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) which appreciated the irregular features of a person, place, or setting and that “gave them a certain charm and made them desirable subjects for painting.” (Ibid)

JaneAustenSilhouette-Wikimedia

Image, Wikimedia Commons

Volz writes much more about the mastery in which Austen unites Elizabeth and Darcy through visible and invisible likenesses and architectural metaphors. Yet Austen is known for her austere descriptions of person, place or thing. How does this reconcile with visuality? One of the best-known images of Austen is a silhouette used by Jane Austen societies the world over. Early in her book, Volz mentions Austen’s affinity and familiarity with silhouettes. Like her contemporary profilists, “Austen sought to produce verbal ‘shades’ that ‘”convey the most forcible expression of character.”’ (3. Marsh & Hickman, Shades from Jane Austen.)

Austen’s habit of eschewing detail when describing characters’ appearance indicates her preference for using a single telling line that, like the silhouette, supplies ‘infinite expression’ though a profile that is not overshadowed by the particulars within it.” (Volz, p. 36)

For me, this explains Austen’s spare use of details and how this writing style encourage the readers’ imaginations to take hold. As I age, I find new depths in her plots, whose meanings change as my perceptions of the world (and knowledge of her era) change. For example, as a young girl/woman, I couldn’t stand or understand Mrs. Bennet, and found her an irritating though comic character. The more I studied Austen’s era and the circumscribed lives women were forced to live, my sympathy for Mrs. Benne’s poor nerves and her quest to find husbands for her five daughters increased, while my patience with Mr. Bennet (though I never stopped appreciating his wit) waned.

Volz writes that “Austen’s use of an aesthetic vocabulary of character in her fiction directs the reader’s attention to the act of viewing and its ultimate subjectivity in creating couples united in their affections.” So true, but Austen does this so economically and so masterfully, that I am constantly astounded and motivated to reread her novels.

Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele

In Sense and Sensibility, Volz traces the evolution of Elinor’s certainty that Edward Ferrars favors her against her painful, but inexorable understanding that he is engaged to Lucy. The proof is supplied through physiognomic means in the form of a miniature likeness of Edward that he gave to his intended. Does this miniature prove that he loves her? Elinor isn’t sure. While devastated, she is a skillful observer, as painters often are. Why do he and Lucy only see each other twice a year? And why, she wonders, did Lucy never give him her picture?

This plot in Sense and Sensibility reads like a mystery, with Austen using visuality clues to lead Elinor/us to the realization that, by not giving Edward her visual likeness, Lucy’s attachment is tenuous at best. In Lavater’s opinion, a portrait is “more expressive than nature.” One can then deduce that a ring with a lock of Lucy’s hair means little compared to an actual likeness. Elinor can discern no real affection in Lucy’s body language or demeanor towards Edward, but this knowledge gives her no comfort. Only a woman is allowed to end an engagement and Edward is too honorable to go against convention. At the end of the novel, Elinor’s intuition proves to be correct and Edward, unceremoniously dumped by Lucy in favor of his brother, is free to declare himself to the woman he loves.

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith

When it comes to the heroine that no one but Austen will much like, Volz explains that Emma is “as much of a product of Highbury as she is a shaper of it.” (Volz, p. 79). Emma’s status, while high in the ranks of Highbury society, does not detract from the dullness of her daily life as a modest female. In her twenty-one years, she hasn’t visited London, a mere few hours drive away in a carriage, or a seaside resort, or even Box Hill (until the famous scene at the end of the novel). After Miss Taylor became Mrs. Weston, a bored Emma (who took credit for uniting Mr. Weston with her governess) looks for another “project.” When her thoughts turn to Harriet Smith, her imagination and manipulation take over. She will mold Harriet into her vision of a young lady with prospects, even though Harriet is the natural daughter of an unknown somebody.

A famous scene in the novel centers on Emma painting a portrait of Harriet. Volz describes this portrait as an example of the heroine’s self-delusions (the likeness depicts Harriet as Emma would like her to be), and that the friendship among the two women represents something other than themselves. “Emma has redrawn Harriet’s character, which now ‘acts’ as improperly as the eye and hand that have shaped it.” (Volz, p. 80) Needless to say, Emma’s portrayal of Harriet has more to say about the painter than the sitter.

From the start of the alliance, the reader understands that this friendship is woefully out of balance. A weak mouse stands little chance against a powerful cat, and so Emma’s machinations blindly continue, but after Harriet reveals her love for Mr. Knightley, which she (unbelievably) thinks is reciprocated, Emma finally sees ‘the blinders of her own head and heart,’ although Emma feels sorrier for herself in her self-deception than she feels for her deluded friend. “Austen’s visual technique stages for the reader the dramatic shift in the heroine’s vision and perceptions.” (Ibid.) This is true, but Austen’s young heroine still has much to learn before the story ends.

In this section, Volz provides more interesting observations about the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship, which readers will find equally fascinating.

Fanny Price and Mansfield Park

My final thoughts about Volz’s book are about her analysis of Fanny Price. Fanny’s journey as a young girl transported to a strange new house is demonstrated by the rooms she lives in. At first the lonely child cries herself to sleep, but as the novel progresses, the rooms she occupies within the house, first as an outsider and then as an accepted member of the household, correspond with her emotional growth. The more comfortable Fanny feels in her adopted home, the more she blossoms. Fanny’s “acquisition of a new private space within Mansfield serves as a metaphor for her progress towards social acceptance.” (Volz, p. 76)

When Fanny is banished to live with her parents in Portsmouth, she learns how much she has changed and grown. “Aesthetic contrasts teach the heroine and the reader to see that Mansfield’s values are diametrically opposed to those at Portsmouth, with its crowded, agitating interior.” (Ibid.) Mansfield Park has become Fanny’s home, and within it she shines both outwardly and inwardly.

Austen’s evolving views towards ideal landscapes are personified in her descriptions of Pemberley and Mansfield Park:

Whereas Elizabeth’s raptures over Pemberley’s physiognomic display highlight the place’s picturesque irregularity, here [in Mansfield Park], Austen defers to the presentation of organized beauty and agreeable symmetry, implying her own changed view of landscape design.” (Volz, p. 77)

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

This is not surprising, since one of the premier landscape architects at the time that Austen wrote  Mansfield Park was Humphry Repton, whose work Jane prominently mentions in the novel. Repton’s habit of removing irregularities from a landscape can be viewed in his red books, in which he presented before and after watercolors of his designs to his clients. The “after” watercolors remove any impediments to a perfect view or irregularities (by cutting down trees or adding features, such as a pond or a Palladian bridge).

I should also mention that Volz’s thorough examination of Austen’s visual aesthetic includes the author’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which characterizes Austen’s writing. Approximately 20-30% of Austen’s narration is FID, in which both the narrator and a character are speaking at once.

Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels relay information about thoughts and speech. […] Austen’s employment of FID was revolutionary, for while earlier authors had used it to some degree, it remained to Austen to take advantage of the wide range of how FID could be deployed to manipulate our ironic understanding of her characters.” (4. Mooneyham White, Discerning Voice Through Austen, JASNA)

In our day and age, many readers no longer recognize the subtleties that 18th/19th century readers understood when reading novels by contemporary female authors. Dr. Volz’s observations help us to analyze their subtext and, in my case, prompted me to rethink my earlier reactions to Austen’s characters.

One can use Dr. Volz’s observations in analyzing other Austen characters on our own – Anne Elliot, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and Henry Tilney, to mention a few. Austen scholars and Austen fans who have delved deeply into her characters’ lives and the history of Regency England will find this book fascinating and a useful reference in their libraries.

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

About Dr. Jessica A. Volz:

Dr. Jessica A. Volz of Denver, Colorado is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels. Her latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), discusses how visuality — the continuum linking visual and verbal communication — provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language. The title offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling point of view.

Dr. Volz holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of St. Andrews and a B.A./M.A. in European Cultural Studies and Journalism from Boston University. She was recently named an ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was created to harness the global passion for Jane Austen to fund literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Dr. Volz has also served as the editor of two Colorado legal publications and as a translator for a number of Paris-based companies. In her spare time, she enjoys planning tea parties and plotting novels.

References:

1. Volz, Jessica A. Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Anthem Press, Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series, 2020. Print. ISBN:13-978-1-78527-253-0 (pbk).

2. “Painting with Words,” Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, Jessica A. Volz. Review by Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA News, 2019. PDF document downloaded May 18, 2020: file:///C:/Users/18046/Downloads/JASNANews_Summer2019_BookReviews.pdf

3. Hickman, Peggy and Marsh, Honoria, Shades from Jane Austen, London: Parry, Jackman 1975, xv-xxii.

4. Mooneyham White, Laura, Discerning Voice through Austen Said: Free Indirect Discourse, Coding, and Interpretive (Un)Certainty, Jane Austen Society of North America, Volu. 37, No1—Winter 2016, Downloaded May 20, 2020: http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/white-smith/

Additional:

Coffee, Tea and Visuality: The Art of Attraction in ’‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jessica A.Volz, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, February 22, 2017, Downloaded May 18, 2020:https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality

Edmundson, Melissa, “A Space for for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park,” Persuasions On=Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, V. 23, No.1 (Winter 2002), Downloaded 5/20/2020: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol23no1/edmundson.html

Lavater, Johann Casper. Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by or under the inspection of, Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Thomas Holdcroft. 3 vols. 5 bks. London: John Murray 1789-98.

Oesteich, Kate Faber, “Jessica A. Volz – Interview,” Nineteenth-Century Studies Association (NCSA), May 10, 2017. Downloaded May 18, 2020: https://ncsaweb.net/2017/05/10/jessica-a-volz/

Purchase the book:

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Thank you, Ellen Moody, for posting this information on my Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook group page.  Isolation has just become a little better.

Jennifer is still my favorite Lizzie Bennet.

Armchair Travelers: In other news, visit Chawton Cottage on Susan Branch’s site. See this site’s previous post, which also includes Chawton visits by Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and lil’ ol’ moi.

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

The Peabody Institute Watch Party Concerts soothe our souls every Friday night. Catch them at this link.

Peabody

 

Stay safe, all. As my mamma says, “This too shall pass.” Vic

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I used to regard A&E as one of the premier cable channels in the U.S. Known then as the Arts and Entertainment Network, it ran such prestigious shows as the 6-hr 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Inspector Morse, Midsommer Murders, and Biography. (These days this once admirable network features rubbish like Storage Wars, Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, Flipping Las Vegas, and Donny Loves Jenny.)  Regardless of the transformation, I shall always be grateful to A&E for showcasing P&P in the fall of 1995. For six weeks we were treated to this marvelous adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The mini-series held me spellbound (and my then husband as well). I wanted to be Lizzy to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. What romantic-minded lady didn’t?

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Rewatching the first minutes of the first episode, I was reminded of how compact and economical those opening scenes were – and how they crucially fed our expectations for the rest of the series. In interviews over the years, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, said that he wanted to emphasize the lives of Regency men as well, and so the film opens with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy racing through the fields on their steeds to view Netherfield Park, which was available to let. The relationship between Darcy and Bingley is immediately established – Bingley the eager puppy wanting his friend’s approval, and Darcy’s slightly caustic reply as a supportive older friend, cautioning him that he’ll find the society something savage.

As the two friends gallop away, the camera pans to Elizabeth, who pauses during her country walk to watch the men disappear. We follow the tomboyish Lizzy as she skips home over a dirt path, past a field with horses, and to the Bennet family home, Longbourn. Lizzy gazes through the window into her father’s study, while in the background we hear loud bickering between two young women. Mr. Bennet, holding a book in his right hand, rolls his eyes as Lizzy smiles in acknowledgment. This brief exchange demonstrates their close relationship in an instant.

We are then treated to a raucous scene in the parlor with Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet in all their argumentative glory. Only Mary sits quietly, reading a book amid the mayhem. A calm, beautiful Jane greets Lizzy, who has just entered the hallway. Both respond to their mother’s shrill cries with half smiles and serene expressions. These scenes, in which the viewer meets quite a few of the principal characters, took all of 3 minutes.

We next see the Bennets at church in their Sunday best. The costumes are sumptuous; the locations are authentic – not the staged sets that were so prevalent in BBC dramas of the 70’s and 80’s. I recall the excitement I felt when I saw the care that the director and producers had taken to give us an “authentic” English Regency experience. Cameras followed the actors as they moved through the rooms of real houses and the lanes and paths of actual locations. The stilted production techniques inside studio interiors that used two or three fixed camera angles belonged to the past. The BBC and PBS had finally caught up with commercial television in shooting and producing drama that seemed realistic.

The church scene provides us with two of Jane Austen’s most famous lines. Mrs. Bennet runs after Mr. Bennet screeching, “Mr. Bennet, wonderful news. Netherfield Park is let at last!” We are then treated to the brilliant witty dialogue that Jane Austen crafted for Mr Bennet as he replies to his wife’s many suppositions and inanities.

Andrew Davies gives Lizzy the honor of speaking the novel’s famous opening line, “For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How apropos. Only 4:20 minutes have elapsed at this point. Even my ex, who had not read any of Jane’s novels, understood the plot for the full 6 episodes – two bachelors, five single girls, a silly mother, a sarcastic father, and romance and social history galore. We settled in for six hours of satisfying viewing time.

I could continue, but at this rate it would take me over 400 pages just to describe the first episode. Suffice it to say that I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and prefer Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy (horrid wig and all) over Keira Knightley as Lizzy 2005. Some critics with modern sensibilities found Ehle too old and zaftig for the part of Lizzy Bennet. Jennifer was 25 when she took on the role, only 5 years older than Lizzy. (Twenty-five year old Julia Sawalha, who played 15 year old Lydia, was ten years older! And let’s not argue about 30-something Greer Garson playing Lizzy Bennet in 1940 P&P. Awful.)

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

As for Jennifer Ehle being too heavy for the part of a 20 year old Regency girl, those critics need only to examine images of that era to see that Jennifer was the perfect size to play Lizzy. Keira Knightley possesses the thin fashionable looks that suit our 21st century tastes, but not those that depict early 19th century beauties. Feel free to disagree.

The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also benefited from the immensely satisfying performances of Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, David Bamber as the incredibly silly Mr. Collins, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as insufferable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I found very little fault with the supporting actors, who played their roles to perfection. I can’t say how often I’ve seen this version of P&P – 12, 15 times? I’ve lost count. Be assured that I’ll enjoy many more viewings.

In case you wondered how Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would look after 15 years of marriage, here’s a lovely image.

If you wonder how our favorite couple would have aged, here's an image of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 2010 after the King’s Speech premiere.

Additional bits of information about P&P 1995:

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

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

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

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

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

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

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

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

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

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

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Inquiring Readers: This is the second of four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball. This post discusses the dances and etiquette of balls in Jane Austen’s era. Warning: the film adaptations get many dance details wrong.

Dancers, Rowlandson, 1790's

So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger …” Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball.

The English ballroom and assembly room was the courting field upon which gentlemen and ladies on the marriage mart could finally touch one another and spend some time conversing during their long sets or ogle each other without seeming to be too forward or brash. Dancing was such an important social event during the Georgian and Regency eras that girls and boys practiced complicated dance steps with dancing masters and learned to memorize the rules of ballroom etiquette.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Balls were regarded as social experiences, and gentlemen were tasked to dance with as many ladies as they could. This is one reason why Mr. Darcy’s behavior was considered rude at the Meryton Ball- there were several ladies, as Elizabeth pointed out to him and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings, who had to sit out the dance.

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, danced every dance and thus behaved as a gentleman should.

Ladies had to wait passively for a partner to approach them and when they were, they were then obliged to accept the invitation. One reason why Elizabeth was so vexed when Mr. Collins, who had solicited her for the first two dances at the Netherfield Ball, was that she’d intended to reserve them for Mr. Wickham. Had she refused Mr. Collins, she would have been considered not only rude, but she would have forced to sit out the dances for the rest of the evening.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, Gillray, 1804

The only acceptable excuse in refusing a dance was when a lady had already promised the next set to another, or if she had grown tired and was sitting out the dance. Elizabeth could offer neither excuses at the start of the ball, and thus was forced to partner with Mr. Collins.

At a ball, a lady’s dress and deportment were designed to exhibit her best qualities:

As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage, so towards it our regards must be particularly turned: and we shall find that when Beauty in all her power is to be set forth, she cannot choose a more effective exhibition – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Real Life in London

It was also extremely important for a gentleman to dance well, for such a talent reflected upon his character and abilities. Lizzie’s dances with Mr. Collins were causes of mortification and distress.

Mr. Collins slightly out of step

“Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.”

A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance if they had not been introduced. This point was well made in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland had to sit out the dances in the Upper Rooms in Bath, for Mrs. Allen and she did not know a single soul. Mrs Allen kept sighing throughout the evening, “I wish you could dance, my dear, — I wish you could get a partner.” Mr. Tilney was introduced by Mr. King, the Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms, to Catherine, who could then dance with him. At Rosings, when Mr. Darcy explained to Lizzie that he danced only four dances at the Meryton Assembly ball because he knew only the ladies in his own party, she scoffed and retorted: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room.”

Because a ball was considered a social experience, a couple could (at the most) dance only two sets (each set consisted of two dances), which generally lasted from 20-30 minutes per dance. Thus, a couple in love had an opportunity of spending as much as an hour together for each set.

A gentleman, whether single or married, was expected to approach the ladies who wished to dance. Given the etiquette of the day, Mr. Elton’s refusal to dance with poor Harriet at the Crown Ball in Emma was rude in the extreme, but Mr. Knightley performed his gentlemanly duty by asking that young lady to dance (and winning her heart in the process).

A lively dance at Almack's

Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.

Depending on the dance formation and steps, a gentleman was allowed to touch a lady and hold her hand (and vice versa, as shown in the example of Mansfield Park 1999 above and in the image below).

Allemande

The couple had many opportunities to converse or catch their breaths when they waited for others to finish working their way down a dance progression.  The ability to carry out a conversation was considered very important, as Lizzie pointedly reminded Mr. Darcy:

“Elizabeth … took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.”

The dances that would have been danced at the Nethefield Ball were:

The English Country Dance

The characteristic of an English country dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy, and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest , and graceful. – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Country dances consisted of long lines of dances in which the couples performed figures as they progressed down the line.

When a dancer was too tired to do steps, she would have been considered no longer dancing at all, as with Fanny in Chapter 28 of Mansfield Park:

“Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.”

Rather than everyone starting at once, dances would have called and led off by a single couple at the top; as that couple progressed down the set other couples would begin to dance, then lead off in turn as they reached the top, until all the dancers were moving. Jane Austen occasionally got to lead a dance, as she mentioned in a letter of November 20, 1800, to her sister Cassandra:

“My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr. Mathew, with whom I called the last, and whom I liked the best of my little stock.”

This could lead to very long dances indeed (half an hour to an hour) if there were many couples in a set” – What Did Jane Austen Dance?

The Cotillion


The cotillion was based on the 18th-century French contradanse and was popular through the first two decades of the 19th century. It was performed in a square formation by eight dancers, who performed the figure of the dance alternately with ten changes.

The rapid changes of the cotillion are admirably calculated for the display of elegant gayety, and I hope that their animated evolvements will long continue a favourite accomplishment and amusement with our youthful fair. – The Mirror of Graces

The minuet.

The Devonshire Minuet

This dance had grown almost out of fashion by the time A Lady of Distinction wrote The Mirror of Graces, and it is conjectured that Jane Austen must have danced it in her lifetime.

Boulanger

Boulangers, or circular dances, were performed at the end of the evening, when the couples were tired. Jane Austen danced the boulanger, which she mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1796: “We dined at Goodnestone, and in the evening danced two country-dances and the Boulangeries.”

Quadrille

Note: the Quadrille and the waltz would not have been danced at the Netherfield Ball. Jane did mention the quadrille in a letter to Fanny Knight, which was dated 1816. And the waltz would not have been regarded an acceptable dance in 1813. It is doubted that Jane ever waltzed. The reel might have been danced at the Meryton Assembly, or at a private dance given by Colonel Foster and his wife, for instance, but it would probably not have been featured at the Netherfield Ball at the same time as a country dance.

Second Note: The movies have it all wrong. According to the author of this post on Capering and Kickery, “Real Regency Dancers Are Au Courant

Along with the peculiar notion that dance figures from the 17th century are useful for the early 19th century comes the even more peculiar notion that entire dances of that era are appropriate. Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today’s teenagers are. Dances like “Hole in the Wall” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. Loving obsessions with these dances make me want to cry at the sheer ignorance being promulgated by the people who keep putting these dances in movies.”

More on the Topic

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Inquiring Readers: I will be contributing four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. This post discusses the clothes that the characters would have worn in relation to the film adaptations and actual fashion plates of the time. Warning: this is a long post.

Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

The Netherfield Ball. Ah! How much of Jane Austen’s plot for Pride and Prejudice was put on show in this chapter! Elizabeth Bennet – its star – enters the ball room hoping for a glimpse of a strangely absent Mr. Wickham, but is forced to dance two dances with bumblefooted Mr. Collins, whose presence she somehow can’t seem to shake. (From his actions the astute reader comes to understand that this irritating man will be proposing soon.)

Lizzie and Mr. Collins out of step, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mr. Darcy then solicits Lizzie for a dance, and his aloofness and awkward silences during their set confirms in Lizzie’s mind that he suffers from a superiority complex.

Dancing a set with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 1995

As the evening progresses her family’s behavior is so appalling (Mary hogs the pianoforte with her awful playing; Kitty and Lydia are boisterously flirtatious with the militia men; and Mrs. Bennet brazenly proclaims to all within earshot that Mr. Bingley and Jane are as good as engaged) that the only enjoyment Lizzie takes away from the event is in the knowledge that Mr. Bingley is as besotted with Jane as she is with him.

Jane and Bingley have eyes only for each other, while Lizzie cannot wait for her set with Mr. Collins to end, Pride & Prejudice 2005

In anticipation of furthering her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham, Lizzie dressed with extreme care, making sure both her dress and hair looked perfect. In the image below, Jennifer Ehle’s “wig” is adorned with silk flower accessories, and a string of pearls, which was the fashion of the time. She wears a simple garnet cross at her throat (Jane Austen owned one made of topaz) and her dress shows off her figure to perfection.

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) in full dress, Pride and Prejudice 1995

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice between 1797 and 1813, when the novel was accepted for publication. For continuity’s sake, I will discuss the style of dresses worn from 1811-1813.

Pride and Prejudice 1995

Pride and Prejudice 1980 and 1995 stayed fairly consistent in using costumes that were based on fashions from the early 19th century. Pride and Prejudice 2005 took great liberties in several ways, and I shall point out the most egregious deviations or obvious errors as they arise.

Assembly Hall dance, Meryton, Pride & Prejudice 2005

For a private ball, Lizzie and Jane would don their best ball gowns, also known as full dress gowns. They would have worn simpler dresses for a public assembly hall dance, such as the one in Meryton when Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy made their first appearance, and where anyone in town who could afford the price of a season ticket could attend. (This is one of the reasons that the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy did not comingle with the hoi poloi! Imagine Mr. Darcy dancing with an apothecary’s daughter!) The  image  above shows Lizzie in a dark green cotton gown and Charlotte in a brown dress. None of the ladies are wearing hair ornaments or gloves, nor holding fans.

Jane and Lizzie, 1980 Pride & Prejudice

For a private ball, in which the guest list could be controlled by the host, the guests went all out to show off their finery. Their best gowns were retrieved from storage and were accessorized with long gloves, fancy hair ornaments, a fan, dance card,  delicate necklaces and earrings, and a beautiful Norwich or India shawl. The dresses were made of finer muslin or silk (an extremely expensive fabric worn largely by the rich). They had these qualities in common: bare necks and/or low necklines, short puffy sleeves, and long, columnar skirts embellished with lace, embroidery or ribbon. Under the dresses, the ladies wore bodiced petticoats and silk stockings and slippers. By 1813, trains on full dress gowns were beginning to go out of fashion or were reduced considerably in length, except for court gowns, which followed a different set of rules.

Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane, Pride & Prejudice 1995

Balls were generally scheduled during a full moon so that carriages traveling over dark roads were guided by lunar light. As the revelers approached the house, brightly lit lanterns dangling from trees or torches planted alongside the road would light the way; and the rooms themselves would be emblazoned from the light of hundreds of beeswax candles, which tended not to drip and would give off a steady flame (but were horrifically expensive). Candlelight made large rooms look smaller, since so many dark corners remained unlit. The resulting low light was kind to aging skin and the badly complected.

Chandelier, Upper assembly room, Bath

The hundreds of blazing candles emitted no more light than that of a few 25 watt bulbs. The light was enhanced by the crystal pendants that acted as reflectors and by mirrors, that were often placed in back of wall sconces. Candlelit rooms became hot over time and ceilings were covered in soot from the smoke. With the number of people assembled in one space and the great number of burning candles, ball rooms  required good ventilation. Most women carried fans. One can imagine how hot the men must have felt wearing long sleeved shirts and waistcoats under coats and cravats that covered the neck up to the chin. As an aside, if an overabundance of guest spilled over from room to room, the event was deemed to be a “crush,” (or a rousing success).

Cruikshank, Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room shows what a "crush" looks like

One can suppose that the gathering at Netherfield was a more sedate affair than the one depicted above by Cruikshank, with only the cream of Meryton crop invited to partake in the festivities. Given the size of Netherfield Park, a crush would have looked more like this:

Crush at Netherfield, 1995 Pride & Prejudice

The golden glow emanating from chandeliers and wall sconces would alter the color of the gowns that the ladies wore. Colors that looked good in the yellow light would be chosen for greatest effect, colors that clashed would be avoided. I imagine that a blue gown could look green under yellow light, and that a strong puce could look black or that lavender would turn a sickly gray.

Mr. Darcy approaches Lizzie and Charlotte. The white dresses look beautiful in candlelight.

Young ladies of fashion preferred to wear white during the Regency era, but they would also wear soft pastel colors, as shown in the image below from P & P 1995. Notice the slight differences in the necklines and details of sashes and embellishments, but the gowns look as if they were designed for the same era.

A Lady of Distinction, author of The Mirror of Graces (1811), advised young maidens how to dress:

In the spring of youth, when all is lovely and gay, then, as the soft green, sparkling in freshness, bedecks the earth; so, light and transparent robes, of tender colours, should adorn the limbs of the young beauty…Her summer evening dress may be of a gossamer texture; but it must still preserve the same simplicity, though its gracefully-diverging folds may fall like the mantle of Juno…In this dress, her arms, and part of her neck and bosom may be unveiled: but only part. The eye of maternal decorum should draw the virgin zone to the limit where modesty would bid it rest.”


A Lady of Distinction advised married ladies like Mrs. Bennet to make more modest choices:

As the lovely of my sex advance towards the vale of years, I counsel them to assume a graver habit and a less vivacious air…At this period she lays aside the flowers of youth, and arrays herself in the majesty of sobriety, or in the grandeur of simple magnificence…Long is the reign of this commanding epoch of a woman’s age; for from thirty to fifty she may most respectably maintain her station on this throne of matron excellence.”

Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas in subdued colors, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mrs. Bennet and other matrons are shown covering their hair with feathers or caps. At their age, they were allowed to wear deeper but more somber colors. If they chose to wear white, they were advised to add a striking color through accessories, such as a richly colored shawl. The costumes in Pride and Prejudice 2005 combine the fashionable dress of 1812-1813 (women at left below) with old-fashioned 18th century gowns that had natural waists (Brenda Blethyn and woman at right). Since Regency gowns kept their “value” longer, it makes sense that matrons would wear them beyond their fashionable hey day. It would not make sense for a young lady on the marriage mart to wear anything but the most up to date gown she could afford.

In Pride and Prejudice 2005, Mrs. Bennet wears an old-fashioned gown with a natural waistline.

All five Bennet girls were “out,” much to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s surprise, and allowed to attend balls and parties en masse. This meant that all the girls would need their own party and ball dresses in addition to their regular gowns, a quite expensive proposition for Mr. Bennet, who, one suspects, would have preferred to spend his money on books . Handmade fabrics were still very costly before the age of mass production and ladies recycled their gowns as a matter of course. It was the tradition to remake their gowns, or to hand them down to younger or smaller members of the family to be recut in the latest fashion or refurbished with new trim and accessories, which were more affordable.

The Bennet family dressed for the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

Silks were quite expensive. Mr. Bennet could probably afford to dress Jane in silks since she was the eldest daughter and her dresses could be handed down to the younger girls, but the cost would be too prohibitive for him to outfit all his daughters in such a costly fabric.

Jane and Elizabeth, Pride & Prejudice 2005. Lizzie

The Bennet girls lived less than a day’s drive from Town and received the most recent fashion magazines within days of their city counterparts, but they did not have access to the latest textiles at the fabric warehouses in London. Whenever friends or relatives visited London, they came armed with orders to purchase fabrics and clothing items at the Draper’s.

Harding & Howell Drapers, Rudolph Ackermann. Print from Georgian Index

Traveling salesmen and local shops could offer only a limited supply of fabrics to choose from, and one imagines that quite a few ladies in a small community would be forced to make dresses (or have them made up by a dressmaker) from the same bolt of cloth. Local drapers, dressmaker shops, and millinary shops would have looked much like the shop below:

In 1828 the proprietor of this milinary shop in Sutton Valence, Miss Elizabeth Hayes, "went to London to purchase Bonnetts at Ludgate Hill".

Because fashion took longer to take hold in the “provinces”, most of the women in Meryton would have worn dresses that were popular several years back (1811 or 1812). They could update their gown with lace and ribbon, or embroidery, and make minor adjustments, which is what Jane Austen often wrote about in her letter to Cassandra. In that way they updated their gowns and introduced variety.

Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst in their London finery. Pride & Prejudice 1995.

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, on the other hand, would be decked out in the latest and most elaborate finery that London fashion had to offer. The fabrics and trims on Miss Bingley’s gown are rich and costly and is made up of a color that was quite in vogue. Mrs. Hurst’s hairdo, which evokes a Roman matron, must have taken a while to fashion. Her decolete is more obvious; not only is she better endowed than her sister, but her neckline is lower and the sleeves are puffier. She, too, wears a more elaborate necklace than the Bennet girls, but is is matched with a simple pair of pearl drop earrings. Compare Mrs. Hurst’s hairstyle to that of the ancient Roman portrait below.

Roman fresco, Pompeii, Aphrodite, after a Greek painting

Pride and Prejudice 2005 shows most of the young women wearing pretty but simple muslin ball gowns, many of which would be embroidered in whitework. The young ladies of that era were adept seamstresses, and they learned to embroider at a young age. Whitework embroidery patterns were readily available in fashion magazines.

Whitework embroidered hem

Lizzie’s hair (below) is styled becomingly with pearls, but it has a more modern, contemporary flavor than Miss Bingley’s and Mrs. Hursts hairdos in the (3rd) image above.

Caroline Bingley (below) looks like she’s dressed for a 2005 wedding. There is nothing Regency about her outfit or her hair. While actress Kelly Riley looks beautiful, I wince every time I see her in this supposed Regency costume.

Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Director Joe Wright wanted to play up Lizzie’s tomboyish side, but regardless of her affinity for plein air walks she would still have followed propriety and worn gloves. Her dress, too, has a modern feel. We know that Keira Knightely has a small bosom, but a corseted petticoat would have given this gown more structure. In addition, her waist is a tad too low. Compare this image with the one above, and you get virtually no sense of place or time in Pride and Prejudice 2005 via the gowns.

Elizabeth dancing with bare arms. Her hair is elaborately fashioned, but the gown's waist should be a little higher.

In the 1980 movie adaptation,  Lizzie is shown wearing a more elaborate ballgown. She is also holding a fan, a handy instrument in a crowded and hot ballroom! My biggest complaint with her gown is that her bosom is showing entirely too much, and would have earned disapprobation from A Lady of Distinction.

Lizzie and Charlotte, Pride and Prejudice 1980

Ornaments were woven through upswept hairdos. Small tight curls framed the face and tumbled in front of ears. The only ornamentation in Charlotte’s hair (image above) are thin braids that are twisted in such a way as to decorate the upswept “do.”


One note about the opera gloves used in these film adaptations. They should be worn over the elbow and they should be quite loose! In the image at right, below, the loose long gloves fall naturally below the elbow.

Up to now I’ve shown the fashions from movie adaptations. But the fashion plates from the Regency era are even more revealing. Let’s look at some sample plates from 1811 to 1813. Note that throughout these three years, the waists remained high, just under the bosom. Gown lengths seemed to vary, but the hems would creep up as the decade progressed to reveal neat ankles and lovely slippered feet. In 1811, such brazenness was frowned upon by A Lady of Distinction.

Evening dresses, Mirror of Graces, 1811

It is apparent from the above illustration that the bodice petticoat provided a “shelf” silhouette to the bosom. A Lady of Distinction found this new fashion abhorrent:

The bosom, which nature has formed with exquisite symmetry in itself … has been transformed into a shape, and transplanted to a place, which deprives it of its original beauty and harmony with the rest of the person. This hideous metamorphose has been effected by mean of invented stays or corsets…”

1812 evening gown, Ackermann

Jane Austen noted in one of her letters to Cassandra how long sleeves were becoming fashionable for evening. I imagine this dress was meant to be worn on a cold night, for such sleeves would have been stifling in summer. The sleeves are known as Mamaluke or Marie Sleeves.

1813, evening dress, Ackermann

In the illustration above, you can best see how the loose gloves bunched below the elbows. This dress comes with a short train, ribbon embellishments at the hem, and white lace ruffles around the neckline and on the sleeves. Pearls and flowers are woven throughout the hair.

Let’s not forget the gentlemen. Their attire included beautifully formed jackets and waistcoats, white pantaloons, silk stockings, leather slippers, and short gloves. Their cravats, it goes without saying, were tied with precision and made with the whitest starched linen. A cravat pin, a quizzing glass, snuff box, and fob watch completed their sartorial splendor.

Both Darcy and Lizzie are wearing gloves. Pride and Prejudice 1980

More on the topic:

  • Pride and Prejudice 1995, Lizzie and Darcy dance to Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot

This post is copyrighted. You may link to it, and use excerpts with attribution, but you may not place it wholesale on your blog. Always, always attribute this post or material derived from it to Vic at Jane Austen’s World.

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Inquiring readers,

Last year a reader wrote in to say that the Cornelia Green pattern by Mottahedeh was used as the China for the dining room scenes at Longbourn.

Jane visits Netherfield Park and gets ill.

Jane visits Netherfield Park and gets ill.

Yesterday, Katrina reported that the Royal Doulton china pattern used for the scenes at Netherfield Park early in the film is called English Rennaisance. Thank you for the information!

English Renaissance by Royal Doulton

English Renaissance by Royal Doulton

Another reader asked this question: Does anyone know the pattern of the china that was used in the scene in which Lizzy speaks to Mr. Wickham after she’s read Mr. Darcy’s letter? Please leave a comment if you can identify the china in these images:

Lizzy drinks tea after talking to Wickham.

Lizzy drinks tea after talking to Wickham.

Close up of tea cup

Close up of tea cup

Close up of China in cabinet behind Lizzy

Close up of China in cabinet behind Lizzy

Here are two close up shots of the china in question. UPDATE!! Pattern found. Thank you, Margaret!

Royal crown derby tea cup, Royal Antoinette

Royal crown derby tea cup, Royal Antoinette

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Gentle readers,

Several people wanted to know about the china pattern used in the Longbourn diningroom scenes of P&P 95.  J.A.W. visitor Marcia Larson found the Cornelia Green pattern by Mottahedeh (See comment in this post). Examining the photos of the china in the dining scene with the pattern that Marcia found – look at the butterfly – I believe she is correct.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green china plate

Cornelia-green china plate

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One of my favorite blogs on the blogosphere is ::Surroundings:: by interior designer Linda Merrill. Linda, who is a fan of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, has been hard at work finding scrumptious pieces of furniture and objects d’art that would fit perfectly inside Netherfield Park, Longbourn, and Pemberley. Click on the following links to view her interior shots of these fabulous houses and some of the objects you can order today.

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Rowlandson illustration from Wikipedia

‘What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing, after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.’

‘Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.’

Sir William only smiled. ‘Your friend performs delightfully,’ he continued, after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; ‘and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy.’

‘You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.’

‘Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight.
– Conversation between Sir William Lucas and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter VI.

Dances figure prominently in Jane Austen’s novels. Whether performed in public assembly rooms in Meryton or in private at the Netherfield Ball, dances offered social opportunities for young people to mix and mingle and converse in an acceptable fashion. In an era when a young lady of good breeding was strictly chaperoned and escorted everywhere she went, she would find it difficult during a routine day to meet privately with a single gentleman, even one who was courting her. Indeed, such conduct was strictly forbidden (and the reason why Marianne Dashwood’s behavior with Willoughby was considered shockingly forward). The ballroom, however, afforded a social situation in which a couple could arrange to be together for one or two sets. Since a dance would often last for half an hour, the dancers had ample time to converse, flirt, and even touch one another in an accepted manner.

A gentleman would, of course, never ask a young lady to dance unless he was first introduced to her. This is one of the reasons why Henry Tilney made sure to arrange a formal introduction to Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen through the Master of Ceremonies.

During this era people were often judged for their ability to dance skillfully, and a gentleman was pressured to cut a fine figure on the dance floor. In his advice to his son about manners and deportment, Lord Chesterfield wrote: “Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary.”

It is notable that Mr.Collins movements are awkward, and that his conduct on the dance floor mortifies Lizzy: “The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstasy.” (Pride and Prejudice) Mr. Collins’ ineptness as a dancer would have been immediately understood by the contemporary reader to mean that he was not a polished gentleman. To compound his lack of manners, he boldly walks up to Mr. Darcy to introduce himself.

Young ladies and gentlemen practiced their dancing steps, belying Mr. Darcy’s assertion that “every savage can dance.” Professional dancing masters were employed to ensure that a young lady and gentleman learned the steps to a variety of intricate dance movements. Such instruction also helped a young gentleman to keep his bearing upright. Lord Chesterfield wrote his son, who was taking The Grand Tour, “Remember to take the best dancing-master at Berlin, more to teach you to sit, stand, and walk gracefully, than to dance finely. The Graces, the Graces; remember the Graces! Adieu!” Learning the steps was easier said than done, since “between 1730-1830 over twenty-seven thousand country dances with their tunes were published in England alone.” Thankfully, the Master of Ceremonies would choose only a certain number of dances to be performed for the evening, most likely consisting of the most fashionable dances of that particular year.* (Thompson, The Felicities of Rapid Motion)

The most important lady present would open the ball by dancing the first set, as Elizabeth Elliot did as the eldest daughter. Emma Woodhouse would have also been given the honors. Mr. Darcy’s rank and friendship with Mr. Bingley most likely put his position at the top of the line of dancers. Thus, when he asks Elizabeth to dance at the Netherfield Ball they would figure prominently in the line of dancers. The other couples in a country dance set would follow the lead of the top couple, and progressively work their way down the line. Sets of five to eight couples were popular during this period, with partners standing opposite each other as the other couples completed a sequence of movements

Standing and facing each other in line, therefore, was typical for couples engaged in a country dance. However, they were expected to make some conversation as they waited for the next movement. A gentleman, if he applied himself, could skillfully lead the conversation and put a young lady at ease, or pretend to be interested in any topic she brought up. Mr. Darcy chose to remain silent.

They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. — I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well. — That reply will do for the present. — Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. — But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.” – Pride & Prejudice, Volume 1, Chapter 18

In a public assembly, where people paid a fee to attend, people from various walks of life would come in contact with one another. “Aristocrats would interact with gentry, tradespeople, or even servants who were called in to make up a set if there were not enough couples…” (Sullivan, p 168). Mr. Darcy chose to dance only with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley at the public assembly rooms in Meryton, thereby displeasing a wide variety of people, particularly Mrs. Bennet, who was vocal about her displeasure, for there was a scarcity of gentlemen and Lizzy had been forced to sit out two dances. For her part, once a lady refused a gentleman, she was honor bound to pass on other invitations to dance for the rest of the evening.

Private balls became more popular towards the end of the century, when many grand houses began to boast their own ballrooms. At private affairs, the host and hostess could invite the ‘right’ sort of people. These balls were not only more selective, but they provided music played by more professional musicians, and offered delicious and elaborate refreshments as well.

Illustration from The English Folk Dance and Song Society

Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is the music featured at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice 1995 (You can listen to it by clicking on the YouTube video above). The piece was written by Johan Playford in 1695, and published in Playford’s Dancing Master, a country dance guidebook. Maggot in those days meant “favorite,” and the term probably was used in conjunction with a favorite dance. “Today there are two modern versions of the dance – one published by Pat Shaw and one by Cecil Sharp. Shaw’s version of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is generally accepted to be the most authentic since it follows the AAB structure of the music, and Playford clearly states that the second, or B, line of music should be ‘played but once’.”

Links and Resources:

Festival Ball Tickets for September 27, 2008 are now on sale at The Jane Austen Centre, Bath. Tickets this year are £65. To purchase tickets and for further information on the ball and dance workshop taking place in the afternoon of the ball, contact Farthingales or call 44 (0)1225 471919

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A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls! – Mrs. Bennet on Mr. Bingley’s income, Pride and Prejudice, Volume One, Chapter One

One of the hardest concepts for today’s readers to grasp in Jane Austen’s novels are the economic realities of the times. What do her numbers mean in modern terms? What was the standard of living during the regency era? When Olivia Williams as Jane Austen blurted to her brother Henry in Miss Austen Regrets, “Sense and Sensibility has brought me £140. May I not be proud of that?” – how can we translate that sentence so that it would hold some meaning for us?

A currency converter provided by the National Archives in the U.K. provides a rough idea of what these 1810 figures mean. Further clarification from experts will round out our understanding. Please keep in mind that the sums in the third column of the chart are merely approximations. At this precise time U.S. citizens should multiply these figures by two to derive a dollar amount. I am not an expert, and I will leave more detailed explanations to economists like Brad de Long.

To put some of these sums into perspective, the average annual income for an English laborer or farmer in 1800 was around 15-20 pounds. To live comfortably, an English gentleman like Mr. Bennet, would require around 300 pounds per year per individual, or over fifteen times the amount for a working man who supported his family. As you can see from the figures, as long as Mr. Bennet lived, his family was comfortably off. But the situation would change drastically the moment he died. After that unhappy event, Mrs. Bennet would be expected to live off the 4% interest of her £5,000 marriage settlement, or £200 per year. No wonder she became shrill every time she thought of her unmarried daughters, for Mr. Bennet’s entire yearly £2,000 income and his house were entailed to Mr. Collins. After Mrs. Bennet’s death, Lizzy would receive just 1/5 of her mother’s marriage portion, and she would bring to her marriage only 40 pounds per year.

Today it is hard to accurately determine the spending power of these sums (see the different estimates of Mr. Bingley’s income in the example below). Factors that influence spending power are war, inflation, cost of goods, housing and the geographic area in which the dwellings were located. In any event, Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Bingley’s incomes would still be regarded as exceedingly fine. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s 10,000 per year represents only 4% interest of his vast fortune. And Mr. Bingley, though he receives only 4,000 per year, inherited almost 3.4 million pounds from his tradesman father in today’s terms.

…the income would normally come from agricultural profits on land or from other property and investments (in Bingley’s case it turns out the be the latter). It is not easy to translate incomes of the time into today’s money. By some calculations, the effects of inflation mean that a pound in Jane Austen’s time has the same value as almost forty pounds today; if so, Bingley’s income would be the equivalent of 150,000 to 200,000 a year in today’s pounds (or around $250,000-$300,000 in current U.S. money). Altered economic condition, however, make estimates like this tricky: for example, goods tended to be much dearer at that time, in relative terms, while labor tended to be much cheaper. In addition, average incomes in this period, even when adjusted for inflation, were much lower than today, so Bingley’s income represents a far sharper deviation from the prevailing norm than its current equivalent would be.” – Shapard, Annotated Pride and Prejudice, P 5

One can now understand why in Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were forced to economize. When John Dashwood, under his wife’s influence, reneged on his promise to his dying father to contribute substantial sums of money to his step family, the women were forced to live on 500 pounds per year. This paltry sum would have barely covered their living expenses had it not been for Sir John Middleton’s generosity in inviting his cousin to live in a cottage on his estate.

Like the Dashwood women, Jane Austen, her mother, and sister also experienced chronic money worry. However, through the sale of her books Jane was able to earn a much needed supplemental income. While the £140 she earned from the sales of Sense and Sensibility does not sound like much, it represents close to $9,800 in today’s U.S. sums. In fact, the proceeds from the sale of her four books netted her over 23,000 pounds or around 46,000 dollars towards the end of her life. After her brother Henry’s financial reversals, this money must have been a welcome boon indeed.

Now that you’ve gained some understanding of what these sums of money mean, please read the following statement made by Mrs. Bennet in Volume 3 of Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 17:

Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.

How much does ten thousand a year in 1810 represent?
a) £339, 600
b) $680,000
c) A princely sum
d) In relative terms, all of the above

Georgianna Darcy’s marriage portion is 30,000. How much annual income would this sum derive?

a) £3,000
b) £12,000
c) £1,200
d) £120
Sources and resources:

  • Shapard, David M., The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, Anchor Books, 2004
*References, Acknowledgements, Links, and Abbreviations, For the Male Voices Web Site
**Literary Study Tour: Jane Austen, 1998
***Ian Littlewood, Jane Austen: A Critical Assessment, p 205, 1998

Addendum:

To learn more about the ‘Cost of Living in Jane Austen’s England: Vulgar Economy’, click here . This article from the Jane Austen Centre goes into further detail about the Mrs. and Misses Dashwoods’ economic situation.

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Oh what a fun site this is! Its creator has assembled a host of interesting facts about P&P ’95, some of which are highlighted below:

        • Jane Austen figured largely in the BAFTA television award ceremony 1996. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth’s perfomances as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and Benjamin Whitrow’s portrayal of long-suffering Mr Bennet, earned them Best Actress and Best Actor nominations. In the end, Jennifer Ehle was the only one to receive an award for best actress.
        • Colin Firth: “When Pride and Prejudice was offered I just thought, without even having read it ‘Oh, that old warhorse’ and I unwrapped the huge envelope with great trepidation. I think I was only about five pages in when I was hooked. It was remarkable. I don’t think any script has fired me up quite as much, just in the most basic, romantic-story terms”
        • Colin Firth in The Times while still filming P&P: “There’ll be people who will object strongly simply because it’s my face instead of the one they have in their mind. Everyone believes he is dark, though I don’t believe Jane Austen ever described him as such. So they’ve dyed me dark. You have to be very careful not to make him either too idiosyncratic or too bland, and the danger is that you don’t dare to do anything at all. So you have to take over and say, ‘To hell with it, he’s mine now. I own this character and he has to be me’.”
        • In a Blog Critics interview, Jennifer Ehle says: “The relationship between Mr. Bennet and Lizzie was always my favorite part of the book. It was, for me growing up, the love story in the book; and I would weep whenever I reread it and would get to the bit where Lizzie tells Mr. Bennet that Darcy is the best man she has ever known. It is such an important part of the whole female fantasy of the story — the favorite daughter who idolizes her father above all men and then, when he fails to protect Lydia from herself, is exposed as a mere human being.” Update: Find her answers to a hundred questions in a PDF document at Jennifer Ehle Fan Blog.

        • Although she often believed to be British, [Jennifer] actually was born and raised in North Carolina. Both her parents are well-known. Her father, John Ehle, is a novelist while her mother, Rosemary Harris (above with Jennifer in a recent photo) is an acclaimed actress.
        • Jennifer Ehle played George Clooney’s girlfriend in Michael Clayton, although no one will see her performance. In Entertainment Weekly, George weakly explains the reason why her role was cut: “We shot it with Jennifer Ehle — she gave a wonderful performance,” George Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. “And the more we did it, we realized you have to isolate this character more. And having a girlfriend, he’s not in as much trouble.” George then wrote Jennifer a note to apologise for being cut. “I didn’t cut it, but I still felt bad about it.”

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