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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Tilney’

Available March 8, also as a Kindle book

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan, will be available for purchase on March 8. Ms. Sullivan, who many readers know as the editrix of Austenblog, has graciously consented to answer a few questions. Like her books and blog, her information is filled with wit and insight.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Margaret.

Hello to readers of Jane Austen’s World and thanks for having me!

1. How long did it take you to write The Jane Austen Handbook? Was it self-published at first? Who distributed the book? (I know that it sat proudly on the shelves of the gift shop at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath.)

It has always been published by Quirk Books! Just now it has a new cover. Also Quirk books are now being distributed by Random House. Before they were mostly in gift stores (Like the JA Centre–and my friend Julie Tynion sent me a photo of the book on the shelves of the gift shop at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. I think they heard my SQUEEEEE at the International Space Station.) The coolest place I think anyone told me they saw the book was the gift shop of the QE2, while she was still a cruise ship.

As to how long it took me to write it, I had six weeks between the offer and the due date for the first draft, so it was a pretty frantic time. However, the editor and I had worked out an outline so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch, and there were rewrites a little bit later, especially the section on dancing, which I think is my favorite and was greatly expanded in the rewrite stage.

I was working full-time while I was writing it as well, which in retrospect was not the smartest idea. At least near the end I should have taken some time off. I was worn out!

2. Did you approach Quirk Books or did they approach you in publishing this edition of your book?

They approached me. They already had a line of handbooks such as the Batman Handbook, the Spiderman Handbook, etc., which were usually geared towards big summer films. They wanted to do something more literary, and decided to do a Jane Austen Handbook to go along with the release of Becoming Jane. (And yes, I do realize that I am Irony’s Plaything in that regard.) The editor told me she found the blog and thought I would be a good candidate, and “stalked me online” for a few days before approaching me.

Jason Rekulak, Godfather of the Jane Austen Zombie Revolution (like I said, Irony’s Plaything), called me last year and said Random House was interested in re-releasing the book, and it was due for a reprint anyway, but they wanted a different cover. Et voila! Random House’s distribution is, I believe, more focused on traditional bookstores. Also, as a great enthusiast for ebooks, I’m really pleased that at last the Handbook will be available in digital, and I confess I’m also curious to see what the ebook will look like.

3. In regard to writing and publishing, what advice would you give a newbie writer?

As to advice for aspiring authors, I would say to always endeavor to be professional. Jane Austen was extremely professional in her dealings with publishers and fans. Then she abused them with great spirit among her friends. ;-) She was also very professional in the way she approached her craft. She worked at it and was an excellent self-editor, and knew what made a story enjoyable and what was good writing. It distresses me when authors let their emotions get the better of their professional demeanor. Bad reviews happen, and part of the job is learning to accept them, even when they hurt or don’t seem fair. Act like you’ve been there. Shoving your Published Author status in people’s faces seems vulgar to me. And once you arrive, help those who come after you!

4. You’ve been visible on the blogosphere since *cough* its dark ages. Am I right in thinking that your began Austenblog in 2004? What was being the queen of the Jane fandom like back then?

Yes! I created AustenBlog during the very hot July 4th weekend of 2004, and had an official launch later that month. Back then we were excited about a new film version of P&P! Once again: Irony’s Plaything!

I certainly wasn’t the queen of the Austen fandom then, nor am I now. ;-) I don’t think there is a queen. It’s much too anarchic a group. If they don’t like something or their desires aren’t being met, they’ll go make a website or online community of their own, especially now with all the great online tools available. Also nobody really knew about AustenBlog at first. It’s always been movies that attracted the most attention, so when the last bunch of films were being made and shown was when we first attracted a lot of attention. (Say it with me: Irony’s Plaything!)

5. Tell us about the changes in Jane fandom since then and what you think of future trends for Austen aficionados.

I think the main difference is that the fandom is becoming more diverse and I think as a whole not so “particularly friendly to very severe, very intense application,” as Mr. Tilney would say. Their Jane Austen fandom goes along with lots of other interests, some inter-related and some not. There are still obsessives as well, and I’m pleased to see more people having fun with their fandom and allowing themselves to be sometimes silly with it. It’s interesting, while JASNA tends to attract the more devoted fans, I’ve noticed a bit of a culture shift over the past ten years or so. The members are becoming a little more popular culture-oriented, or at least more aware of the popular culture aspects of the fandom, even if that’s not necessarily their cup of tea. Costuming has become a lot more popular. At my first AGM in 2000, only a handful of people dressed in period costume for at least part of the conference, and in the past couple of years it’s really taken off. I think the programs are becoming more diverse, too–there is something for everyone. Janeiteism is a big tent, and I celebrate it, even while I sometimes deplore the fringier groups. ;-)

6. Your love for Henry Tilney is well known. What are the qualities about this hero that attract you so? Which scene in Northanger Abbey in particular do you find memorable?

NA was the fifth of the six novels that I’d read (MP was last) and when this charming, funny guy showed up, I was instantly attracted to his obvious intelligence and wit and general coolness, but it seemed to me that in the other four novels I’d read, the funny, charming guy turned out to be the villain. Thus, I spent the whole book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Imagine my joy when I got to the end and realized it was not only fun to love Henry Tilney, it was the right thing to do.

Henry is not only charming, but honorable. He’s very human and really not as perfect as I’d like to pretend, but he is kind to Catherine, and besides his sister is practically the only person in the book who never condescends to her or treats her like she’s stupid or tries to trick her. If his conversation sometimes goes over her head, it’s paying her a compliment in a way–the compliment of rational companionship, if I may borrow a little from Miss Dashwood!

I have many favorite scenes, but I’ve picked one out, from Vol. II, Ch. I:

Henry smiled, and said, “How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people’s actions.”

“Why? — What do you mean?”

“With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person’s feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered? — but, How should I be influenced, what would be my inducement in acting so and so?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

“Me? — yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“Bravo! — an excellent satire on modern language.”

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

“Shall I indeed? — Do you really desire it? But you are not aware of the consequences; it will involve you in a very cruel embarrassment, and certainly bring on a disagreement between us.”

“No, no; it shall not do either; I am not afraid.”

“Well, then, I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good-nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good-nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

Catherine blushed and disclaimed, and the gentleman’s predictions were verified. There was a something, however, in his words which repaid her for the pain of confusion; and that something occupied her mind so much that she drew back for some time, forgetting to speak or to listen, and almost forgetting where she was…

For all those who say that Henry isn’t really in love with Catherine, read that scene. He is not going to pay her profuse compliments that she might not trust to be real; and when he does pay her a compliment, he does it subtly, with humor, and with that “something” that gives Catherine the collywobbles. You can practically smell the pheromones flying back and forth. That man’s in love–and so is Catherine! I think in that scene her love for Henry turns the corner from a girlish crush to a deeper and more adult feeling.

7. My assumption is that you have been to England and visited a number of places that Jane Austen lived in and visited herself. Do you have any extraordinary memories that you’d like to share with us?

I traveled to the UK in October 2005 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar–I’m a big Age of Sail fan as well–with my Horatian buddies (we Hornblower fans call ourselves Horatians). While in Portsmouth I walked the ramparts, like Fanny Price, and saw the ruins of the Marine chapel where they went to church (and also was amused to see a hair stylist shop run by one Andrew Price in downtown Portsmouth–nice to see the Prices are still in town, even if they are in trade). I felt very close to Captain Wentworth and his friends there. In London, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to visit Jane’s portrait, and the British Library to see her writing desk and the manuscripts for History of England and the canceled chapters of Persuasion.

We also went to Bath, and it was a real thrill. I kept running into Jane’s characters around every corner, especially as my two favorite books are the two Bath books, Persuasion and NA. I remember walking up Milsom Street, getting to the top of the street, looking up, and seeing “Edgar’s Buildings” engraved on the wall. Walking through Laura Place, down Pulteney Street, out to see 4 Sydney Place where the Austens lived, were all amazing–especially to know that in many ways they were nearly the same as in Jane Austen’s time. I also loved going up to Camden Place and seeing how utterly perfect it was to be the home of Sir Walter Elliot. All of Bath was, quite literally, at his feet; and yet it was built on unsteady land, and did not have the proper neoclassical regularity–it was all off-center. Perfect! And a really funny moment was when we were taking the bus uptown, and asked the bus driver to let us know when we were near Camden Crescent. He looked at our cameras and, clearly not a Janeite, said, “Taking pictures, luv? You should go over to Lansdowne Crescent instead. For my money, it’s the prettiest crescent in Bath.” I wonder what Sir Walter and Miss would have said to that! It was such a delightfully Austenian moment.

And of course we went to Chawton and Steventon. They were the places I felt closest to Jane herself. Chawton was charming, so peaceful and quiet, and inspiring for a writer. Finding Steventon was not easy–it was kind of like trying to find Shangri-La. The GPS sent us to Berkshire, which of course is totally the wrong direction. We drove despairingly around Basingstoke trying to find a local who could direct us, but we were a mile away from Steventon at one point and locals just looked at us blankly when we asked if they could give us directions. Finally we found a helpful person who gave us excellent directions, and arrived at the church in late afternoon just as the rain was letting up. I loved both St. Nicholas’ churches, in Chawton and Steventon–I loved that they were both still obviously working churches, and not just tourist attractions. Jane would have really appreciated that, I think. (And thanks to Mike for driving and his lovely pianoforte playing at Chawton, and Kathleen for the companionship, snark, and hosting me in London! I should have just let you guys ring the churchbell at Steventon.)

Margaret Sullivan at JASNA, 2008. Image @Laurie Viera Rigler

Margaret, it was a pleasure to interview you! I’ve seen your book and intend to review it soon. I can’t wait to read it. Vic

Thanks for the interview! This was really fun!

More on the topic:

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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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The author of this guest post, Professor Ellen Moody, needs almost no introduction. If you haven’t come across her timelines of Jane Austen’s novels, I highly recommend that you visit her website. For Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today, Ellen chose to write a comparative piece on the Northanger Abbey. After reading one of Ellen’s posts, you will never quite view a Jane Austen movie adaptation or read her novels in the same way again. Welcome, Ellen, and thank you for writing this post for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today.

Gentle Austen readers,

The other day a friend told me that many people do not know there is a third Northanger Abbey movie. All who have been faithfully watching the Jane Austen movie festival on PBS this year know at least something of the most recent: the 2007 WBGH/Granada Northanger Abbey (directed by Jon Jones, written by Andrew Davies). Many may have heard of the 1987 BBC Northanger Abbey (directed by Giles Foster, written by Maggie Wadey). But it seems that a free adaptation, the 1993 independent Ruby in Paradise (directed and written by Victor Nunez), has been effaced from Public Memory[note 1]. Rumor (who Virgil told us long ago is not to be trusted) has committed yet further mischief. She has spread abroad a notion the 87 Northanger is completely bad. She also went on and on about how the PBS people cut the 07 Northanger so crudely (constantly clipping as they went and omitting a nude and playful episodes), that she had not time to divulge why it is so cheering and unbearably touching when at the film’s close hero and heroine fall over one another in their eagerness to kiss and hug tight at last.

So when asked to write about the recent Austen movies for Jane Austen Today, I decided to write about how all three Northanger Abbeys films enriched our experience of Austen’s novel. Beguiled by Austen’s parody of Ann Radcliffe’s 1790s gothic romances and allusion to the imprisoned dying bleeding nun of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 horror gothic, The Monk, all three gothicize Austen’s book. The beauty of the 87 and 07 Northanger films lie in their visual recreation of female gothic dreams. The 87 film is beautifully picturesque, and filled with thoughtful conversations taken from Austen’s book. Very like Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (the 1995 free adaptation of Emma, starring and narrated by Alice Silverstone as Cher Horowitz), Ruby in Paradise is an updated “young lady’s entrance into world:” Ruby dramatizes a teenage heroine’s struggle to discover what is and to make a good place for herself in world that can put her at serious risk. The core of the appeal of the 07 film is the capital way the two principals, Felicity Jones and J. J. Feild, jell as a pair of characters whose mutual kindness, intelligence, and integrity of heart emerges gradually as very precious indeed against the film’s “crimes of heart.”

We begin with Austen’s ungothic gothic. The gothic section of Austen’s Northanger Abbey begins in Vol II, Chapter 3: the book is all Bath up to there. The “visions of romance” (as our narrator tells us) are over by Vol II, Chapter 10, after which we take a trip to Woodston, return to Bath by way of letters, and experience a real crisis and bereftment whose sources are greed, gossip, and resentment. We experience a lot before we get to the felicitious close. There is little gothicism in Austen’s book.

Some contrasts: the way to Bath in Austen’s novel is wholly uneventful. Nothing happens. Both the 87 and 07 Northanger films open with a nightmare visions as Catherine (Katharine Schlesinger and Felicity Jones respectively) lies in a tree and reads Radcliffe: Wadey’s nightmare is straight out of the 1968 horror gothic, Rosemary’s Baby; Davies’ comes from modern female ghost-gothics. During the trip both films dramatize nightmares: in the 87 film, an archetypal sexually-motivated abduction scene (which closely recalls one in the 1980 Jane Austen in Manhattan, a free adaptation of Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison); in the 07 film violent duelling, which includes Mr Allen (Desmond Barrit) dealing blows with his crutches, surrounds our fainting two heroines. Mrs Allen (Sylvestre Le Tousel) faints too. Both films contain six dreams or nightmare sequences nowhere in Austen’s book. When Austen’s Catherine at long last fulfills her desire to see a real historical building and drives into the grounds of the abbey, she is surprized because she barely notices the quick appearance of a low building, whose appearance she just about entirely misses because “a scud of rain” hits her in the face. Austen’s Catherine’s room is modern, well-lit, with a good fire, and near her friend, Eleanor Tilney’s. General Tilney boasts of his progressive modernization of his house; Mrs Tilney’s ex-room is neat, clean, spruce, not a shroud in sight. And so it goes.

The case is drastically altered in both films. I defy anyone to miss the abbey in Davies’ film:

In Wadey’s the film comes out of a mist across a lake, and when come close is looms overhead as a scary ancient military fortress:

I think viewers want to revel in gothic dreams. The catch is Austen allows us to glimpse these alluring visions through parody, and filmic visual romance resists ironizing. I was intensely delighted when in the 07 film, Catherine reached her room (a long way up the stairs, and not near Eleanor) and we are treated to this mastershot:

It was perfect (as Felicity Jones’s face shows), though not in Austen. The film-makers have given us what Austen’s Catherine longed for. The 87 film has the advantage of having been filmed in Bath, but nowhere on their walk in Austen’s book do Henry (Peter Finch), Catherine (Katherine Schlesinger), and Eleanor (Ingrid Lacey) come upon anything as perfectly picturesque as Wadey’s trio does continually, e.g,

I turn to the 87 Northanger Abbey. As Wadey’s Henry, Eleanor and Catherine walk and talk so companionably in front of Radcliffean waterfalls, amid green forests, and drifting along in a boat on an oneiric lake, the 87 film offers us a reproduction and extension of the conversation Austen meant her Volume I to culminate in. I quote Wadey’s Henry teasing Catherine: “Art is as different from reality as water is from air, and if you mistake water for air, you drown. Of course if you are a fish, then the danger lies in the air.” The scene is psychologically believable; intimacy and trust between the friends has been established, and they talk, repeating a slightly simplified and yet expanded version of Austen comic meditation on history, the picturesque, and art. Like Austen’s, Wadey’s Henry slights women, discusses politics (there are added real references to the troubled 1790s scattered throughout the film), and is put down by Wadey’s Eleanor. The music provides another dimension of harmony.

Throughout Wadey’s film includes far more of Austen’s original language, conversations, and literary and artistic themes than Davies’ 07 Northanger film, and in so doing, includes, adds to and comments on Austen’s general outlook and her appreciation of Radcliffe’s female gothic. At moments Wadey’s Catherine’s brand of proto-feminism reminded me of Austen’s Fanny Price when Fanny tells Austen’s hero, Edmund Bertram, she does not think all women should be expected to jump at any man who proposes and then tells Austen’s other heroine, Mary Crawford, that she cannot like a man who can enjoy hurting women’s hearts even if it might be in this instance that the woman’s heart was not hurt (but Fanny thinks Maria Bertram’s was, and it turns out she is right). In the playful conversation while dancing where Wadey’s Henry makes his analogy between a dance and marriage, Wadey’s Catherine (an addition) emphatically brings in the woman’s right of refusal as not nothing, as important; this assertion is brought back late in the film ironically as we find the right of choosing is the more effective: it’s Henry’s role to come to Catherine.

Yes, some of the horror nightmares in this film are ghastly: not all, two of the six are lovely, visionary as in the sequence following a late afternoon of delicate opera-like eroticism in a baroque aria sung by Henry. The historically-accurate bathing scenes have been made much of; I like also how memories of Mrs Tilney’s suffering are given visual symbolic representation in statues found in the garden and Catherine’s window, the dramatization of Henry’s defiance of his father (played by Robert Hardy) and the father’s scorn for Henry’s loyalty; and the use of witch imagery in the costumes of characters who manifest a sublime indifference to other people (e.g., Googie Withers as Mrs Allen, Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchioness whose husband has been guillotined).

In the still, Catherine grows nervous as she sees herself in her mirror wearing Mrs Tilney’s riding outfit and decides not to ride in it; we see a statue we’ve seen before now presiding over Catherine:

Paradoxically, it’s in the free adaptation, Ruby in Paradise, that Austen’s insistence on the prosaic realities of life are clung to. Ruby Gissing (Ashley Judd) is our Catherine Morland character. As the movie begins, Ruby is leaving a young man (boyfriend, partner? it’s not clear) and driving herself to Florida because her few good memories of her time with her family come from when they went to Florida on vacation. Ruby has to integrate herself into the community by getting a job; she is hired by Mildred Chambers (Dorothy Lyman) who eventually tells Ruby she hired her because saw herself in Ruby:

The older woman becomes the younger one’s mentor and friend, eventually herself partly dependent on Ruby. Mrs Chambers runs a tourist souvenir and clothing store whose downscale nature does not deter people from buying sprees.

Ruby is also befriended by an African-American teenage girl who works in the store, Rochelle Bridges (Allison Dean): Rochelle is also taking a business course in a local college and looks forward to marriage. They eat together, go dancing, walk on the beach, share past memories, dreams and hopes.

Rochelle functions like Eleanor Tilney in a number of the conversations, including one where she gives Ruby money when Ruby desperately needs it. A memorable moment occurs when they speak of “how to survive with your soul intact.” One of Davies’ dialogues for his Catherine and Eleanor take up this subject too.

Mrs Chambers’ sexy show-off lying boorish son, Ricky (Bentley Mitchum), combines characteristics of John Thorpe and Captain Tilney. He persuades Ruby to ignore his mother’s prohibition against the staff going out with her rich son. When late in the film, Ruby has far superior boyfriend and does not want to continue this forbidden hollow relationship, Ricky attempts to rape her; enraged at Ruby’s resistance, he fires her, insinuating he will tell her mother about their relationship. Many readers have suggested Austen had Richardson’s much earlier (1740s) realistic epistolary novel, Pamela, in mind: there a servant refuses to have sex with her boss, and he rewards her virtue by marrying her. Here we see the realistic results of such refusal. More realistic yet (and Austen-like) is the lack of irretrievable crisis. Yes we have a series of anxiety-producing hard scenes where Ruby is continuously refused jobs, sinking lower and lower, even considering topless dancing, and finally working as a laundress, but when Rochelle explains to Mrs Chambers what happened, and Mrs Chamber also remembers how good an employee, Ruby, has been, she is rehired. The film ends with Ruby opening the shop as its assistant manager.

As is common in many of these free adaptations (e.g., Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, a Mansfield Park, Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, Helen Fielding and Andrew Davies’ Bridget Jones Diary, both in part replays of Pride and Prejudice), the Northanger Abbey framework of the tale is signalled strongly for us when in Ruby’s boyfriend, Mike McCaslin’s (played by Todd Field) considerable library, Ruby stumbles upon and reads Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Ruby reads aloud from the book and pronounces it a story like her own: she too is a heroine “against the odds.”

She reads it on the sly at work to finish it; Ricky appears to recognizes it and pronounces that he “never got around to it.” The book’s use for him is to lord it over Ruby: “Don’t let Mom catch you.” Mike recalls Henry Tilney in his strong intellectualism, idealism (he’s an environmentalist Josh played by Paul Rudd, the Mr Knightley character in Clueless), supportive love and trust; he does not pressure Ruby for sex; the parallel of teacher and pupil is strikingly close, down to a discussion of local history and landscape. However, at the movie’s close Ruby does not take the easy way out of marriage with Mike as they clash in some important ways. Their way of discussing Austen epitomizes these:

Mike: “Take it. Then you can join my fools reading society, meetings nightly after lovemaking.”
Ruby. “Lot of good it’s done you.” Mike: “Saved me from evil. Restored my soul. Brought peace to my troubled mind. Joy to my broken heart … [and in another later scene he adds] Isn’t it wonderful the way Austen seems to dwell on the superficial and comic yet all the while revealing the contradictions and value system of an entire society. I don’t think there’s been anyone so subtle and elusive. What do you think?” Ruby. “It was a neat story.”

There are other counterparts to characters and predicaments in Northanger Abbey, and (as across Austen), we get a continuum of young women who make different choices in life [Note 2]. I’d like to emphasize the many scenes where Ruby writes in her diary and we get Judd’s musing voice-over where she thinks about parts of her story and we watch striking montage. This too is a part of an Austen film: they are unusual for the frequency in which we find ourselves with female narrators guiding us through the story. Some write letters, some read them, and some keep diaries, Ruby is repeatedly pictured writing in a journal; it sustains her.

In my view in the past year we have had four new superb Austen films: this past fall, Robin Swicord’s The Jane Austen Book Club; and this spring on the PBS Festival, the extraordinarily powerful and brilliant film-making of Snodin, Shergold, and Burke’s Persuasion; Davies’ latest, a dark and romantic Sense and Sensibility, and his Northanger Abbey [Note 3] As with Ruby in Paradise, the human dimension of Austen’s story is made intensely appealing; as in his Sense and Sensibility, Davies has rewritten Austen’s key dialogues to bring home to us the cost of coldness, material aggrandizement, and ego-centered behavior. Our villains include Liam Cunningham as General Tilney, a frightening Dracula figure whose brand of “vampirism” we are told “drained the life out of” Mrs Tilney; John Thorpe (William Beck) is let off more lightly than Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) who actually deserve one another, partly because he appears briefly and is allowed to justify his lies. It is not uncommon for Davies to show sympathy for amoral and unadmirable characters. Where he hits a new note is consonant with J.J. Feild’s strength as Henry Tilney: he projects a sensitive intelligence and emotional vulnerability.

As one of the older BBC mini-series, the 1972 BBC Emma transformed Austen’s novel to dwell on a slow and subtle presentation of the relationship between the hero, Mr Knightley (John Carson) and heroine, Emma (Doran Goodwin); so Davies has chosen to develop those scenes and parts of scenes where Henry and Catherine are in deep communication; he adds to this a more emphatic presentation of Eleanor (Catherine Walker) as equally bereft of life’s joys because of her father’s meanness (in every way) and the death of their mother. The letter scenes late in the film take lines given to Henry Tilney in the book and give them to Eleanor. With her quiet self-control, feeling of staying in the background, and sadness Catherine Walker is as superb as Eleanor Tilney as Emma Thompson and Hattie Morahan as the Elinor Dashwoods of the 1995 and 2007 Sense and Sensibility.

In one of the many delightful scenes Davies adds to Austen’s script to develop the triangular relationship at the heart of his film (one alas cut from the American version), when the general leaves the Abbey, the young people go into the garden. We see Henry get a ladder, climb a tree, and to the accompaniment of the bouncy cheerful music that accompanies the normative time-passing prosaic sequences of the scene, Henry rains apples on the girls, and they run about to catch them in their skirts:

The imagery denies there is any sin here; it’s a sunlit moment in a paradise of congenial supportive companionship.

There is a painful moment which betrays Austen’s art and book in two of the movies: Wadey and after her Davies have their heroines burn Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. It was to Radcliffe and other contemporary female novelists Austen tells us she went to learn her art. I also find troubling Nunez’s Ruby’s sudden thrust at her Henry (Mike), “Stop looking down” on people. Mike has not looked down on anyone in the film; like Austen’s Henry he respects those “games of life” whose rules are clear, fair, and understandable.

So gentle reader, read Austen’s book again, watch all three films, and then reread. And then recall Isabel’s words in Austen’s Love and Freindship (which I here play upon): “Beware, my Laura, of the unmeaning Nonsense of Rumor and dangerous treacheries of Memory; Above all, Avoid the fetish Goddess, Literalism.”

Note 1: I am using some common terms for the three major types of film adaptation. The 2007 Northanger Abbey is an apparently faithful film (sometimes called “transposition”). Davies tries to match the original story, and to reproduce most of the characters, dramatic turning-points, and famous lines, with some allowance for modernizing interpretations and advantageous alterations provided by film. The 1987 Northanger Abbey is an intermediate adaptation (sometimes called “commentaries”): Wadey is far closer to Austen’s language and includes most of Austen’s central incidents, but she departs with the intention of commenting on, critiquing, and updating Austen’s text. The 1993 Ruby in Paradise is a free adaptation (these are called “analogies”). Nunez abandons historical costume drama, but reproduces enough recognizable incidents, type characters, character functions, and themes to make his film also function as an adaptation; in addition, his heroine reads and she and the hero discuss Northanger Abbey and Jane Austen.

Note 2. Ruby in Paradise took top honors in the 1993 Sundance Film Festival and got rave reviews. There’s a published review which goes over the parallels to Northanger Abbey: see Zelda Bronstein, review of Ruby in Paradise, Film Quarterly, 50:3 (1997):46-51.

Note 3. I would call The Jane Austen Book Club is a free adaptation of all the Austen novels! This is clearer in Karen Joy Fowler’s witty novel. The 2007 Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility are like the 1987 Northanger, intermediate adaptations or commentaries. I should mention that The Jane Austen Book Club was produced by Julie Lynn; the 2007 Sense and Sensibility produced by Vanessa de Sousa and Anne Pivcevic, and directed by John Alexander. It starred Hattie Morahan as Eleanor and Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood; David Morrissey (now the central character) plays Colonel Brandon.

Note 4. Although clearly of the faithful type, the 1972 BBC Emma, like the best Austen films, recreates a work in its own right. It was directed by John Glenister, written by Denis Constanduros. In my view Fiona Walker is the best Mrs Elton we’ve seen.

Biography: Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University has a blog of her own where she frequently discusess Austen and her films, _Ellen and Jim have a blog, too_. She devotes part of her website to “Jane Austen and Time”, where she offers timelines for each of Austen’s six novels and three fragments, a chronology of her writing life, as well as reviews of books, essays, films, and records of readings and discussions of Austen’s novels conducted on Austen-l and Janeites a few years since. She is now working on a book, The Austen Movies.

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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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