Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr My kids saw that scoundrel Willoughby at Chic-Fil-A last night. Or so they thought. We had just finished our chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and were headed off to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, but all four kids stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the unsuspecting dark-haired, large-eyed teenage boy behind the counter. I could read their body language; if this was indeed Willoughby, as they frantically whispered in my ear, he would surely do something reprehensible at any moment. And they weren’t going to miss it. Much to their chagrin, we ushered them out the door, and the Willoughby look-a-like was left to finish his work without further danger of besiegement. In their overactive 10-, 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old minds, they had seen a villain behind the counter. The details of this poor boy’s true identity are of no consequence. The more important reality is that Jane Austen had captured their hearts and imaginations, and my children have not yet entered adolescence. This surely qualifies as a parental milestone. Now, I know the purists contend that the consumption of the screen portrayal should never precede the consumption of the written. I don’t hold to that particular standard (but undoubtedly have my own purist standards in other areas). As such, when we began the several-hour long 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, my kids were immediately enthralled and the questions came with great rapidity. With my finger (more…)
In an article published in The Telegraph, this week we were surprised to find out that in his youth, Greg Wise (aka John Willoughby from the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility) came close to giving up acting, which would have meant that he would never have met the love of his life, Dame Emma Thompson (who played Elinor Dashwood in the 1995 film, as well as writing the screenplay for it)!
The work I’m paid to do as an actor is really play. An awful lot of people who work in any form of arts have to have a childlike quality. A lot of us are quite childish as well.
My parents wanted me to get a degree, so I studied architecture in Edinburgh for three years first. Although I never really wanted to be an architect, I’m thrilled I did it. I think everyone should do a year of architecture; it opens your eyes up to what is mainly really shoddy design.
Early in my final year I auditioned for drama school and ended up moving to Glasgow. I didn’t start earning until I was 25 – then after 18 months I decided to retire from acting. My closest friend, Simon, had drowned. I remember sitting opposite my agent, who was in tears, as I said I was giving up. I took myself off to Australia for six months and got my head together. I came back and I’ve loved working since.
I’ve never worked a great deal. It’s not been a career so much as a series of choices that you make for the best reasons at the time. Although if I don’t say Sense and Sensibility [written by and starring Emma Thompson, Wise’s wife] stands out in my career, I’ll get divorced. That was an amazing piece of work and I met the love of my life. I wasn’t paid very much, though.
We enjoyed reading a little bit more about Greg Wise and his changing relationship with acting, so we hope you did too.
In new research, Cornell University psychologists found that study participants were more than twice as likely on average to call male professionals – even fictional ones – by their last name only, compared to equivalent female professionals. This example of gender bias, the researchers said, may be contributing to gender inequality.
The eight studies, which included male and female participants, showed the difference which came from the first name distinction. When men were referred to by only their surname that were perceived as more famous and more important than the women who were referred to by their first and last names. Researchers say that the implications for political campaigns could be important as “it’s possible that referring to a candidate by their full name instead of just their surname could have implications for fame and eminence.”
It’s true that we usually say “Shakespeare” but “Virginia Woolf”, and “Hardy” but “Mary Shelley”, however, we like to think that Austen might be the exception to the two-name rule. Jane Austen is certainly the only really famous Austen who we think of when we hear the name Austen!
The UK charity The Reading Agency recently commissioned a poll to discover the nation’s reading habits, as one way of marking World Book Night which took place on Monday April 23rd. One of the things which the poll found out was that more than a fifth of British readers refuse to give up on a book, no matter how much they are struggling, while some will wait weeks or months before calling time on the unsatisfying book. In school the general message was to read on and get to the end of the book, but The Reading Agency is going against the trend and advising readers to give up on books they do not enjoy.
The poll, of 2,000 people, found that 15% would give up if struggling with a book after 1-3 weeks, 11% saying they’d stop after 4-6 days of struggles, 13% after 2-3 days, and 6% would stop the day after. On the other hand, 22% thought that readers should always finish books they’ve started.
However, Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency, said that;
At a time when one in five of us will experience anxiety or depression, and world events can leave people feeling confused or scared, reading has never been more important.
At a time when so many brilliant books are being written and published, you should never force yourself to read something you’re not enjoying. World Book Night is the chance to find a book that works for you.
The Top Five Unfinished Books
1. Fifty Shades Of Grey by EL James
2. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring by JRR Tolkien
3. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by JK Rowling
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Some of our readers might remember that the UK was treated to a touring, musical-adaptation of Persuasion last year. Well now, rather than one of her novels, Jane’s life has been adapted into a musical.
Jane Austen the Musical is receiving great reviews as it continues its UK tour, which runs until March this year.
The tour began in October last year and has visited the likes of York, Norwich, and Birmingham. It is currently playing in London and, as London is a theatre hub, the theatre critics have been going to see the show and making their verdicts.
Rob Winlow has fashioned a diverting, grown-up, pleasant (but not without its bite) chamber musical that captures some of the dilemmas faced by the quiet girl who scribbled immortal novels in a Hampshire rectory.
Rob Winlow’s songs are pleasing, especially when the cast sing in harmony, with more than a hint of Gilbert & Sullivan in the patter numbers.
The audience amongst whom I sat were mostly women, though (as both the male director and male writer prove) Austen’s work is universal in its appeal, as all great art must be. See it if you’re a fan and, if you’re not, see it anyway
The highlight of the production is Edith Kirkwood’s assured performance as Jane. She has a charming voice and vivacious presence. Jenni Lea-Jones is enjoyable as Mrs Austen and Thomas Hewitt and Adam Grayson provide game support as the suitors and Rev Austen.
Of course it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some critics have said that it is too flimsy (“frustratingly thin portrait of an author”), but we thought that if you like musicals and you like Jane, this is a production you might like to know about.
Tour dates for the show are available here.
by Rhian Helen Fender
“Mrs Edwards thinks you are a child still. But we know better than that, don’t we.”
So began the 2008 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, with the cad Willoughby seducing the naïve ward of heroic Colonel Brandon. The atmosphere seductive with low-light and fireplace burning, ripping bodices and whispered words… In its review, the Telegraph described how viewers tuned in “with jaws dropped, to this unexpected opening for an Austen adaptation.” The question is, why? Why would viewers deem a sultry scene unexpected in an adaptation of the work of Austen? Austen appears to have a reputation for representing everything that is light and lovely, with the admiring Sir Walter Scott describing Pride and Prejudice (1813) as “a very pretty thing.” Austen herself seemed aware – and concerned – of her delicate reputation, stating her fear that the novel Scott so admired was “too light, and bright, and sparkling.” Whilst it is true to state that Austen was largely focussed on the lower gentry of which she was personally aware, it would be a disservice to her work to suppose she did not consider larger social influences or events, nor the more scandalous actions of those whose world she so accurately depicts. Within Austen’s novels are various themes that are often ignored or unseen when analysing her work, considered too sinister in the works of the purportedly genteel Jane Austen.
Mansfield Park (1814) tells the story of young Fanny Price, a girl able to rise above her station due to the wealth and goodwill of her extended family. The source of that power, however, is controversial due to the head of the household’s links to the slave trade. It would be an exaggeration to proclaim the novel as slavery prose – allusions to the system are rare and implicit – yet the very fact that Austen chooses to even subtly reference slavery is a bold move. The one direct reference to slavery comes as Fanny describes a family conversation with her cousins and uncle: “And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence. And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject.” Austen leaves it to the reader to deduce why Fanny’s family might be silent when discussing slavery – disinterest, embarrassment, shame, ignorance –and it is this empowerment of the reader in reaching their own conclusions which gives this brief passage weight. Austen does not preach to her readers, but allows them to make their own deductions. Sir Thomas Bertram’s years at his plantation in Antigua is what allows much of the action of the novel to occur – unloving marriages, flirtation and seduction – and the reader is not incorrect in supposing that Sir Thomas’s focus would have been better placed at home, rather than in underhand dealings abroad. Continue reading In Defence of Jane Austen
by Caroline Kerr Taylor
Jane Austen was born in December 1775, the seventh child of Rev. and Mrs. Austen. Mrs. Austen nursed each of her babies for the first few months before they were taken to a neighboring family (the Littleworths). Each child was looked after by this family for the first couple of years until the child could walk and talk. The parents visited regularly during this time, until the child was ready to be brought back into the Austen household. This was not a totally uncommon practice for the time, nor was it considered unfeeling. As long as the baby was well cared for, that was what mattered to the Austens. Knowing today what we know of the importance of mother/baby bonding it would have been extremely disrupting for a child to be taken from its mother after just a few months and placed with another family. (And then, later, wrenched from that family when the Austens felt the child was ready to rejoin their household.) This could be a significant reason why Jane became attached more deeply to her sister than to her mother.