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Inquiring readers: While I am at JASNA’s meeting in NYC this weekend, I leave you with this delightful description of Catherine Morland as a very young girl. I have often wondered how much Jane Austen described her own character. After all, she lived with a house full of boys and must have played cricket with them and slid down the slope behind Steventon Rectory during the snow! Interestingly, Jane Austen wrote the description in one long paragraph, which my images break up. I love the tongue-in-cheek quality of her depiction of Catherine, yet she manages to describe exactly what a young lady’s accomplishments OUGHT to be.

**A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number. (Portait of Sir William Young and family, Johann Zoffany.) Walker Art Gallery

Description of Catherine Morland

A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without color, dark, lank hair, and strong features,— so much for her person. And not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind.

Embroidered 18th century handkerchief. “The ball once struck off, Away flies the boy, To the next destind post, And then home with joy.” *Image @CNN

She was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket, not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, — nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed, she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief, — at least so it was conjectured, from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. Such were her propensities. Her abilities were quite as extraordinary.

Girl sketching, by Henry Raeburn. c. 1811 Image @Sudley House

Catherine Morland’s Accomplishments

She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching her only to repeat the “Beggar’s Petition;” and after all, her next sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherine was always stupid,— by no means: she learnt the fable of “The Hare and many Friends” as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinnet; so, at eight years old, she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine’s life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another.

Dancing Masters Ball, 1794, Isaac Cruikshank. Childrens balls were arranged so that children could practice their dancing lessons. Image: Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 794.8.27.1

Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!— for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper; was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.

Below: Catherine as I envision her when she meets Henry Tilney


Head of a girl
Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Citations:
*Did baseball begin in 18th-century England?, By Simon Hooper, CNN, June 9, 2010 8:29 a.m. EDT

**A portrait of Sir William Young and his large family shows a picture of 18th century wealth in a fashionably bucolic setting. A “conversation piece”, this depiction was meant to tell a story. The artist, Johann Zoffany, helped develop this type of piece, positioning the sitters as if they are actors. The family is wearing a type of fancy dress, 17th century costumes inspired by century-old portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck . This type of nostalgia was extremely popular in Britain around 1770.  Michael Henry Adams, A Queen for Today! Huffington Post, April 22, 2009.

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There Must Be Murder, a very nice story by Margaret C. Sullivan,

It is one year after Catherine has married her Henry. She still is sweet and naïve, but she now possesses the womanly knowledge that every bride with an adoring husband soon comes to know. Henry Tilney is as charming as ever and clearly loves his pretty Cat. The couple, only one year married, live in Woodston Parish with a cat named Ruby Begonia and an assortment of dogs, including a Newfoundland named MacGuffin. Catherine has redecorated the pretty parsonage, and the couple has a habit of cozying up together as Henry reads passages from The Mysteries of Udolpho. During one such occasion, Catherine fondly recalls her introduction to Henry in Bath by the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. King, and in no time Henry has arranged for a visit to that ancient city.

“Henry, you know perfectly well that I keep no journal. Besides, I did not know then that you were my future husband.”

“Some husbands would be injured at such an admission, but not I; after all, I did not know that you were my future wife. I remember that I was wandering about the Rooms like a lost soul, having no acquaintance there. The master of ceremonies, Mr. King, took pity upon me and asked if I would like an introduction to a clergyman’s daughter who was in need of a partner. In Christian charity, I could not decline; though from my past experiences of ladies described as ‘clergymen’s daughters,’ I expected to be presented to an elderly spinster with a squint. You may imagine my relief when Miss Morland turned out to be rather a pretty girl, and I considered myself fortunate that no other gentleman had already claimed the honour of dancing with her.”

Catherine’s eyes were shining. “You thought me pretty?”

“Indeed.” Henry reached for her hand and kissed it.

Margaret C. Sullivan, the author of this charming tale, deftly combines old characters (General Tilney and Henry’s sister, Eleanor) with the new – an apothecary named Mr. Shaw, a pretty but calculating woman named Judith Beauclerk, her mother, Lady Beauclerk, and Sir Philip, to name a few. Ms. Sullivan takes us on a sweet journey over familiar territory, paying homage to Jane’s characters while staying true to her own writing style. The book is illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Casandra Chouinard, which certainly enhance one’s enjoyment of the novella.

Catherine, Mr. King, and Henry Tilney. Image @There Must Be Murder

Fans of Jane Austen will recognize Margaret as the editrix of Austenblog, the longest surviving Jane Austen blog on the blogosphere, and as one whose knowledge of Jane and the Regency period is that of an expert. And thus the details set down in this tale are accurate and true to the time, including the use of arsenic in beauty potions. Margaret’s humor also shines through, and I found myself turning page after page until I had finished the story in one sitting.

Here’s her bio, with an example of her humor: Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of numerous Jane Austen sequels and editrix of AustenBlog. Her first book, The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible yet Elegant Guide to Her World, will be in bookstores this spring. She likes to think that Henry Tilney would dance with her at the Lower Rooms, although she is an almost-middle-aged spinster with a squint.

If you are intrigued by my short review, you may purchase the book in several ways. Girlebooks, an excellent source of free Ebooks, now offers original eBooks that have never been published, such as There Must be Murder. You have a choice of several platforms in which to download the book or purchase a printed copy. It is available for $9.99 at Amazon paperback and for free at Smashwords at this link .

The novella was first commissioned by the Jane Austen Centre, and you may read the book chapter by chapter in this link.

Enjoy! I certainly did.

Book Giveaway (Closed – congratulations to winner, Cecilia): If you leave a comment, you have a chance to win my hard copy of the book with all its charming illustrations. The drawing (by random number) will be held on February 5th.

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Until a cold felled me low this week, I had refrained from rewatching Northanger Abbey 1986, which I had a tough time sitting all the way through the first few times around. This film has left me feeling frustrated for its lost opportunities and many misses, and I wonder if the director and script writer wish today that they could change some of the creative decisions they made almost a quarter of a century earlier. In this film, we see the story unfold from young Catherine Morland’s (Katherine Schlesinger’s) point of view. This means we get a lot of Gothic novel fantasies made up by script writer Maggie Wadey, and hardly any Jane Austen at all.

Isabella Thorpe and her mother wear outfits, hats, and hairdos that seem inspired by Von Heideloff prints

The production values are quite stunning, considering how old this BBC adaptation is and how poorly made films for television were in that era. Costumes designed by Nicholas Rocker are the fashion equivalent of beautiful meringues and chocolate bonbons (how could any of these women, except Mrs. Allen or Eleanor Tilney have afforded such luxurious gowns?). Despite the breathtaking settings and authentic backdrops, this 90-minute film adaptation with its strange synthetic music manages to entirely miss the satiric point of Jane Austen’s wonderful take on the gothic novel. And someone should have told the makeup department to lay off the heavy mascara and lipstick on all the ladies.

1795 Von Heidoloff fashion plate

Although the length of this adaptation is a mere 90 minutes, script writer Maggie Wadey added scenes and characters that detracted from the story or overwhelmed it, and that replaced moments in the book that were important to drive the plot forward and understand the characters better.

While Jane Austen made it clear that young Catherine had quite an imagination, these over the top film scenes were jarring and took away valuable cinematic time from good story telling.

I also found major problems with the musical score. The four musical clips embedded in this post and written by composer Ilona Sekacs in no way evoke the Regency era.  Click to hear the theme for the DVD – a 47 second music clip.

Catherine's Gothic dreams drive the music

Sekacs’ synthesized music and odd vocalizations from a female choir concentrate almost solely on giving us an eerie sense of ” Gothic doom”. Unfortunately, the composer uses the  “Lah da dah-Ooh” chorus throughout the film, and occasionally throws in a Gregorian Chant for good measure. Only during the ball scenes and at a musicale in Northanger Abbey are we allowed to hear music made with traditional instruments and that might have been heard during the Regency era.

An occasional tinkle from a pianoforte would have added greatly to a Georgian era atmosphere

I can only surmise that Ilona Sekacs was influenced by Vangelis, who had won an Academy Award for his score for Chariots of Fire five years before this production. Although Chariots was a period film, Vangelis’ electronic score sounded fresh and sweeping as 1920’s male runners practiced their speed against a back drop of endless beaches, rolling waves, and big sky. His score was a huge success in the early 80’s and he was rewarded for it. Alas for Jane Austen lovers, electronic synthesizers do not work as effectively in evoking a Bath drawing room, or as a backdrop for such Regency pastimes as walking, taking the waters, and carriage rides.

Bodiam Castle, built 1385

As the opening credits roll by, Catherine’s views Northanger Abbey from the carriage (to the accompaniment of this musical clip, which features male and female chanters and trumpets blaring). The Abbey is actually Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century keep with a water moat, and a well-known tourist destination.

Bodiam Castle's grounds from the air

I instantly sat up and took notice, for I have visited Bodium Castle. It was a ruin during Jane Austen’s day and was only partially rebuilt in 1829, a good twelve years after her death. According to Jane’s novel, Northanger Abbey was surrounded by extensive gardens, and I wondered how the director would pull off the scene where the general boasted of his fruit trees.  Imagine my surprise when I saw Catherine and Miss Tilney walking towards a side entrance of an entirely new building with different architectural details and nary a moat in sight. “Badly done”, as Mr. Knightley would have said. Bad transition, indeed.

A stroll through the gardens of Northanger Abbey

But I have jumped ahead of myself, for there are other earlier errors for which I cannot forgive this production. Take Henry Tilney (Peter Firth), for instance. At the Assembly Ball, he bumps into Catherine and Mrs. Allen (a delightful Googie Withers) without a proper introduction from the Master of Ceremonies. Except for Henry’s comments about muslins, his fey but wise sense of humor is almost entirely missing at the start of this film.

Henry Tilney bumps into Catherine Morland and Mrs Allen.

I must admit that I do not like Firth‘s portrayal of Henry Tilney and could never see him as this character. But even so, Henry’s charming conversation was given short shrift, and he appears only long enough for Catherine to develop an interest in him before disappearing. Click here to view a YouTube clip (and hear period appropriate music) of Henry’s first meeting with Catherine.

James Morland introduces John Thorpe

Where Henry’s role was severely diminished, John Thorpe’s presence early in the film was largely retained.  Mrs. Allen and Catherine do not bump into Mrs. Thorpe as they walk through Bath, as Jane Austen had written. Rather, as you can see in this YouTube clip, Catherine’s brother, James, visits the Allens and makes the introduction. Catherine then meets Isabella, overplayed by Cassie Stuart.

Isabella Thorpe, pretty but calculating

Because of the film’s short length, Isabella’s overly forward and friendly manner seems doubly rushed. The second time she meets Catherine, she reveals her love for James and her wish to marry him, and the next thing you know, James goes racing off to his father to beg for his permission to marry her.

John's loud coat should clue Catherine about his character

But once I again I digress.  John Thorpe (Jonathan Coy) is suitably sleazy (can’t you tell from his hideously striped suit?) and even Catherine leaves her Gothic fantasies long enough to be appalled by his boorishness. Thorpe’s early scenes are quite effective and then … he disappears. Except for a few mentions later, he literally falls off the face of the DVD, but not before he participates in one final scene in the hot baths, where Catherine, Isabella, Mrs. Allen, and Eleanor Tilney gather to bathe in the hot mineral waters. The party enters the baths to the strains of odd discordant music. An entire chorus is now crowding in on Catherine’s brain, and she can only stare wide-eyed around her.

Mrs. Allen and Catherine in the hot bath

But Catherine, who has a full and active day ahead of her, can bathe for only a short time. She makes a walking date with pretty Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), who happens to be there. After sweating for some time in a hot and humid room, Catherine and Isabella emerge from the building with every curl in place and looking fresh in their beautiful unwrinkled, delicate muslin walking dresses. Isabella begins to fret over Catherine’s excessive attention to Eleanor. It is at this point that the uninitiated will start to lose an important thread of the story, for unless the viewer has already read the book, she will have no idea why John and Isabella are so determined to have Catherine accompany them to Clifton.

Bath is a beautiful setting as always

The plot has been so compressed and muddled, that the motivation that drives these characters is a bit murky.  The uninitiated will wonder: Why is John so interested in Catherine? Why is Isabella jealous of Eleanor? Why, indeed.

As John meets the ladies outside the hot baths he reveals that he has rearranged Catherine’s walking date with Eleanor, which sets Catherine’s temper off and sends her running through the streets towards General Tilney’s house.

In my opinion, this would have been a good time to insert Vangelis’s oscar-winning score for Chariots of Fire, since a run through Bath by a Jane Austen heroine is now rapidly becoming a Jane Austen TV adaptation tradition. (See Persuasion 2007.)

Catherine interrupts the Tilneys

Catherine rushes past the footman as he opens the Tilney’s front door, enters the house alone, and barges into the drawing room to apologize to Eleanor for John’s arrogance. All the while, she still looks fresh as a daisy.

The General meets his unexpected guest

She meets General Tilney (Robert Hardy), who is simply delighted with Catherine and who encourages her to go on an outing with Henry and Eleanor as soon as possible. (The uninitiated will wonder: “why is he so intrigued with this rather simple, uninteresting girl?” Why indeed.) And so Catherine hurries off with the Tilney siblings to … Beechen Cliff ? Why, no! Jane Austen’s chosen spot for discussing the picturesque wasn’t deemed good enough and so the actors were taken to another location.

A walk along a sculpted lake instead of Beechen Cliff

And thus they are filmed walking through a picturesque setting, with a lake and temple folly and weeping willows (so very 18th century refined), to talk about the picturesque.

A lake with temple folly

Instead of gazing at Bath from the heights of Beechen Cliff, the viewers are treated to the sight of Henry rowing the ladies across the waters.

At the end of this important scene (for Henry recognizes Catherine’s natural, unassuming, yet unformed airs), the music crescendos and the viewers hear 31 seconds of neo-jazz/Grecian tragedy music with a greek chorus and New Orleans saxophone.

In this image, the description of Catherine rings true: ""Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl-she is almost pretty today."

At this juncture I must share the following comment, just to soften my own harsh critique. Jules, a very well spoken person, had this to say in 2005:

Ilona Sekacz wrote the score for a BBC TV version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ with Peter Firth. The music stood out a mile. A wonderful, haunting voice with a pulsing rhythm that has has stayed with me since I first saw the programme back in the 80s (I think). I could hum it now. I have tried to find this music but it has disappeared into cyberspace. Such a shame, it was so memorable. I bought the video years ago just to get the music. It’s not out on DVD but I transferred my VHS so I’ll never lose it.

I love this woman’s music, it’s unique and inspiring.

Isabella flirts with Captain Tilney and gets her comeuppance

Ok, so to each his own. I’ve gone on long enough about how much I dislike the film. In swift succession, Isabella flirts with Captain Frederick Tilney, prompting James to end their engagement; Catherine visits Northanger Abbey and makes a fool of herself trying to find intrigue and uncover a murder most foul,

Catherine rides with Henry to Northanger Abbey

and General Tilney discovers she’s as poor as a church mouse and casts her out of his house.

The general learns that Catherine is poor

Because time is so compressed in this film, Catherine is cast out of Northanger Abbey without explanation. The uninitiated will have no idea what has transpired, because no explanation was given at first. And because the camera does not follow her on her ride alone back home on a public stage without adequate resources, the uninitiated remain clueless about Catherine’s mature demeanor during that long journey alone and how dastardly the General treated her by forcing her to go unescorted, thereby placing her in harm’s way. Henry Tilney soon discovers he can’t live without her and comes after her on his steed. And because he comes across in this film as a prosy old bore, not a sharp-witted, dashing hero, the uninitiated will wonder what Catherine actually saw in him.

Henry comes for Catherine

Did I find anything of redeeming value in this film? Yes, but those comments shall have to wait for another critique. A production that added a marchioness who provided General Tilney with the latest gossip (and perhaps some sport in his bed), but that prevented Henry Tilney from saying some of his best lines deserves little praise.

Why was the marchioness (Elaine Ives-Cameron)added?

How would Lady Catherine de Bourgh have critiqued the film, I wonder?

“I send no compliments to the director or script writer. They deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”

I must explain that this film was one of the main reason why I did not read Northanger Abbey until the very last of Jane’s novels. The story as told in this film is quite awful, so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I finally met Jane Austen’s actual characters in print.

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In Jane Austen’s words, Henry Tilney, the hero of Northanger Abbey, seemed to be about “four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.”

In addition he came from a respectable family in Gloucestershire. A second son, he had just recently been ordained. Even more attractive than his respectability are his sense of humor, his close relationship with his sister, and the fact that he can make such insightful statements as this one:

Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

Click here to read Oh, Henry, a wonderful post about Mr. Tilney. Austenprose also quotes our fabulous Henry. No wonder our young Catherine lost her heart to this charming but wise young man.

Catherine, NA’s heroine, is sweet, adorable, and unworldly. As she reads her favorite gothic novels, she can imagine herself in the same perilous situations as the fictional heroines. Her imagination is so vivid that her unsupported suspicions about Henry’s mother’s death places her in an awkward situation with the young man who has stolen her heart. Catherine’s infatuation with Henry is such that her flattery flatters his ego, and he starts to fall in love with her. When General Tilney boots Catherine unceremoniously out of Northanger Abbey, unchaperoned and in the middle of the night, Henry’s eyes are opened to his father’s unpardonable behavior. He sees that in one sense, Catherine was right about his father’s monstrous behavior.

As for Catherine, who in this world has not met a young coltish miss who suddenly grows up and fits this description by Jane?:

At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. “Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl – she is almost pretty today,” were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.

In fact, these two characters are so likable, that one tends to forget that Jane wrote Northanger Abbey as a spoof of the Gothic novel so wildly popular at the turn of the 19th century. For an excellent review of the upcoming Masterpiece Classic presentation this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, visit Remotely Connected and read Heather Laurence’s and Natalie Zee Drieu’s excellent thoughts on this film adaptation.

Read my other Northanger Abbey posts here.

Update: Arti just reminded me of the Andrew Davies interview yesterday, which I forgot to include. Click here to enter Arti’s site, Ripple Effects, and read the interview. You can also find Mr. Davies NPR interview on Jane Austen Today. Click here to listen.

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