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“Dear Emma” – Jane’s Heroine Goes To College

Jane Austen News

“Dear Emma” – Jane’s Heroine Goes To College

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Pride and Prejudice Tops The Romance Charts

Jane Austen News

Pride and Prejudice Tops The Romance Charts

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Bride and Prejudice: 2004

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must have no life without wife.

Obviously, something was lost in translation between the 1813 novel and the 2004 film, but the sentiment in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice is the same. Society, our audience, has expectations of us all. We can conform, like Charlotte Lucas, and be granted a modicum of respect, however grudging, from the Lady Catherines of the world. Or we can do the unexpected, like Lizzie Bennet, and brave the wrath that is sure to follow. There’s a heavy price to pay either way.

The modern filmmaker is given a similar choice when she dares to adapt Jane Austen. She can attempt a period piece costume drama with bonnets and riding boots, as in the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen Pride and Prejudice. However, in attempting to meet the purist expectations of the novel’s most ardent admirers, the filmmaker is practically guaranteed to fail. Some history buff or another will note a flower blooming in the background that failed to make its way to England until say 1830. Someone else will take issue with the colour of a dress, that dye not being available before 1860, and another person will be absolutely appalled by the actresses’ makeup. Or, the filmmaker can flaunt convention and blaze a new trail, like Frank Sinatra crooning “I did it my way.” Not only has Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha taken the road less traveled, Chadha has chosen to boldly go where no man has gone before. She takes Jane Austen to Bollywood, and we should all be grateful that she did.

Like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Clueless, Bride and Prejudice is not a line by line reenactment of the novel. It is an enjoyable romp under the guise of what if Jane Austen’s characters were living in our modern world? The answer seems to be that they would do and say very much the same things. This reaffirmation of the human spirit has to be reassuring to the viewer, and it seems unlikely that dear Aunt Jane would be much surprised to find us so little altered in 200 years, or 2,000 miles. Continue reading Bride and Prejudice: 2004

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The Swiss Family Robinson: “One of the most popular novels of all time”

Swiss Family Robinson

wyssThe Swiss Family Robinson: “One of the most popular novels of all time”

Johann David Wyss (28 May 1743 – 11 January 1818) is best remembered for his book The Swiss Family Robinson (Der schweizerische Robinson). It is said that he was inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but wanted to write a story from which his own children would learn, as the father in the story taught important lessons to his children.

As a pastor, Wyss hoped to teach his sons family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Wyss’ attitude toward education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many of the episodes have to do with Christian-oriented moral lessons such as frugality, husbandry, acceptance, cooperation, etc. The adventures are presented as a series of lessons in natural history and the physical sciences, and resemble other, similar educational books for children in this period, such as Charlotte Turner Smith’s Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Further: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). But the novel differs in that it is modeled on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a genuine adventure story, and presents a geographically impossible array of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants (including the bamboos, cassavas, cinnamon trees, coconut palm trees, fir trees, flax, Myrica cerifera, rice, rubber plant potatoes, sago palms, and an entirely fictitious kind of sugarcane) that probably could never have existed together on a single island for the children’s edification, nourishment, clothing and convenience.

A vintage illustration from the novel.
A vintage illustration from the novel.

Over the years there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed, or deleted. Perhaps the best-known English version is by William H. G. Kingston, first published in 1879. It is based on Isabelle de Montolieu’s 1813 French adaptation and 1824 continuation (from chapter 37) Le Robinson suisse, ou, Journal d’un père de famille, naufragé avec ses enfants in which were added further adventures of Fritz, Franz, Ernest, and Jack.[1] Other English editions that claim to include the whole of the Wyss-Montolieu narrative are by W. H. Davenport Adams (1869–1910) and Mrs H. B. Paull (1879). As Carpenter and Prichard write in The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature (Oxford, 1995), “with all the expansions and contractions over the past two centuries (this includes a long history of abridgments, condensations, Christianizing, and Disney products), Wyss’s original narrative has long since been obscured.” The closest English translation to the original is William Godwin’s 1816 translation, reprinted by Penguin Classics.

Walt Disney's 1960 film is one of the most beloved retellings of this tale.
Walt Disney’s 1960 film is one of the most beloved retellings of this tale.

Although movie and TV adaptations typically name the family “Robinson”, it is not a Swiss name; the “Robinson” of the title refers to Robinson Crusoe. The German name translates as the Swiss Robinson, and identifies the novel as belonging to the Robinsonade genre, rather than as a story about a family named Robinson.

The novel opens with the family in the hold of a sailing ship, weathering a great storm. Only the family is saved when the vessel breaks apart on a reef and the crew and other passengers jump into lifeboats without waiting for the little family to join them. As the ship tosses about, the father prays that God will spare them. There is plenty of food on board, and after they eat, the boys go to sleep, leaving the father and the mother to guard them.

"Our first care was to kneel down and thank God, to whom we owed our lives."
“Our first care was to kneel down and thank God, to whom we owed our lives.” A strong religious theme runs throughout the story.

The ship survives the night, and the family finds themselves within sight of a tropical island. The next morning, they decide to get to the island they can see beyond the reef. With much effort, they construct a vessel out of tubs. After they fill the tubs with food and ammunition and all other articles of value they can safely carry, they row toward the island. Two dogs from the ship swim beside them, and the boys are glad they will have pets when they reach their new home. The ship’s cargo of livestock, dogs, guns & powder, carpentry tools, books, a disassembled pinnace, and provisions have survived.

A map of "New Switzerland" from an English language edition of the novel.
A map of “New Switzerland” from an English language edition of the novel.

Their first task on reaching the island is to erect a tent of sailcloth they brought from the ship. They gather moss and dry it so that they will have some protection from the ground when they sleep. They are able to find a lobster and to shoot some game, thus to add fresh food to their supplies. Since they have no utensils for eating, they use shells for spoons, all dipping out of the iron kettle that they brought from the ship. They released some geese and pigeons while they were still on the ship and brought two hens and two cocks with them. The father knows that they must prepare for a long time on the island, and his thoughts are as much on provisions for the future as for their immediate wants.

The father and Fritz, the oldest son, spend the next day exploring the island.

The family spends the next few days securing themselves against hunger. The father and Fritz make several trips to the ship in their efforts to bring ashore everything that they can possibly use. The domesticated animals on the ship are towed back to the island. There is also a great store of firearms and ammunition, hammocks for sleeping, carpenter’s tools, lumber, cooking utensils, silverware, and dishes.

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The treehouse is one of the most memorable aspects of the Robinson story.

While the father and Fritz are salvaging these supplies, the mother and the younger boys are working on the shore, sowing seeds, examining the contents of the kegs that floated to shore, and in every way possible making the tent a more livable home. The mother and boys also explore the island to find a spot for a more permanent home. When the father and Fritz can join them, the whole family helps to construct a tree house.

The book covers two years. The father and older boys explore various environments about the island. At the end, the father wonders if they will ever again see the rest of humanity. A few years later, an European ship is driven onto their island. The captain is given the journal containing the story of their life on the island. The captain is unable to return to the island because of a storm. He returns to Europe, where the story is published. The family continue to live tranquilly on their island.

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Frontspiece to the 7th London edition of the novel.

The Swiss Family Robinson was first published in 1812 and translated into English two years later. It has since become one of the most popular books of all time. It was originally illustrated by his son, Johann Emmanuel Wyss.

The book was edited by another son,  Johann Rudolph Wyss (4 March 1782 – 21 March 1830), an author, writer, and folklorist. In 1805 he became Professor of Philosophy at Bern’s academy, and later chief librarian of its city library; in 1811, he wrote the words to the former Swiss national anthem Rufst Du, mein Vaterland . He died in Bern, in 1830, at the young age of 48.

Unlike this son, Johann David Wyss lived up to the age of 74, dying in 1818, six years after publishing The Swiss Family Robinson.

Wyss has been described as an author whose style was “firmly Christian and moral in tone”. Jules Verne declared that The Swiss Family Robinson was one of his favorite books. He liked it so much, that he decided to write a sequel entitled The Castaways of the Flag, many years after Wyss’s death.


 

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Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan, a review

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

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I was recently asked to review Margaret C. Sullivan’s latest book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover, and I was only too happy to! I had heard about this upcoming book and I was very much looking forward to it and already had it on my wish list!

“In the short forty-two years of her life, Jane Austen wrote six novels that would endure long after her death in 1817. The texts are true classics, unchanged and yet still immensely popular some 200 years later, but the covers have changed with the times-from the elegant inscriptions of the famous Peacock cover, to pulpy sixties pop art, to graphic novels, Twilight-inspired copycat covers, and mystifyingly bad digital editions. With over 200 images of covers spanning as many years of Austen books, this fascinating, funny, and art-filled book is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.”

I always knew that there were lots of different covers and editions of Jane Austen’s novels – I own quite a few versions myself! – but I didn’t realise how many there really were!

This book was absolutely fascinating to look through and spot the ones I own, how many I don’t – and seeing how many editions I want to own! There is an unbelievable amount, many more than I ever imagined, some I recognised but others that were completely new to me! It really was amazing to see the wide range of publications and their interpretations of the books for the covers. There was everything ranging from beautifully simple to really quite funny and a little scary!
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Gothic Horrors: The Regency Vampyre

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The “modern” vampire genre (or Vampyre, if you will) stems from James Polidori’s 1819 novel, The Vampyre, however the Gothic craze of the entire Regency era led to this printing, and in fact, real events in Europe led to the fascination of all things mysterious and horrible, as characterized in Jane Austen’s novel, Northanger Abbey. It should come as no suprise, then, that Northanger Abbey has finally been rewritten as an actual Vampire inspired novel (see Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, 2014). Writers have been trying to mash the two genres for years now, beginning with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (supposedly a nod to Pride and Prejudice) and Amanda Grange’s Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, to Jane Bites Back, and other similar tales.

According to legend, vampires are mythical beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures (not unlike General Tilney, one might suppose…) In folkloric tales, undead vampires often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited when they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today’s gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early 1800s. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures, the term vampire was not popularised until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe,although local variants were also known by different names, such as vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to what can only be called mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism.

Frotspiece to Polidori's "The Vampyre".
Frontispiece to Polidori’s “The Vampyre”.

The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. However, it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula which is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.

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Pride and Prejudice (1980)

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

I have been blogging about Jane Austen for over five years and I have reviewed many books and movies, yet I have held off writing about the one that really turned me into a Jane Austen disciple—the 1980 BBC/PBS Pride and Prejudice. When something is close to our hearts we want to keep it in a special place, so my personal impressions of Fay Weldon’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s most popular novel has remained my own. In this bicentenary year, I think it is time for me to share.

It first aired in five (55) minute episodes on the BBC in the UK in 1979, and on US television on Masterpiece Theatre between October 26 and November 23, 1980. I was a great fan of Masterpiece and period drama and remember being quite excited to watch the new series. I was not disappointed in the first episode—in fact, I was mesmerized—and watched each episode again when they aired again each week on PBS. Considering that in 1980 disco music was all the rage and Magnum P.I. and Three’s Company were the most popular television shows, you might understand why this anglophile was entranced by a series set in Regency England with beautiful costumes, country houses, sharp dialogue and swoon worthy romance. I was totally hooked and started reading the novel for the first time while the series aired.

pride-and-prejudice-1980-pbs-poster-1980-x-200Now, considering that many of you who are reading this review where not even born by 1980, you might not get the significance of the way in which our entertainment was doled out to us in the those early days. There was the television broadcast, and that was it. In fact I did not own a VCR yet, so I could not tape a video. I had to wait another 10 years before I saw the series again after purchasing a VHS tape of the series. Shocking, I know. But remember that the Internet would not be born until the mid-1990’s and the concept of streaming video—it was totally 21st century technology.

On reflection, why did I like P&P 1980 so much when it originally aired, and does it still stand up to the litmus test for P&P adaptations?

Even though the BBC had produced radio and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958 and 1967, this would be the first time that a US audience would see a television series of Jane Austen’s novel. Some of us had seen the 1940 MGM move of P&P staring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, but it was hardly faithful to the novel and was a two hour theatrical movie. Very little of Jane Austen’s original language had been used, Let’s not even begin the conversation about the changes that were made. Now for the first time we could hear Austen’s words and see the plot unfold as she imagined it—well not word for word or scene by scene—but screenwriter Fay Weldon did adhere much more faithfully to Austen intensions than had been experienced before, nor since. Here is a list of the cast and production team:

pride-and-prejudice-1980-charlotte-lucas-and-elizabeth-bennet-x-400

  • Elizabeth Bennet – Elizabeth Garvie
  • Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – David Rintoul
  • Mr. Bennet – Moray Watson
  • Mrs. Bennet – Priscilla Morgan
  • Jane Bennet – Sabina Franklyn
  • Mary Bennet – Tessa Peake-Jones
  • Kitty Bennet – Clare Higgins
  • Lydia Bennet – Natalie Ogle
  • George Wickham – Peter Settelen
  • Mr. Collins – Malcolm Rennie
  • Charlotte Lucas – Irene Richard
  • Mr. Bingley – Osmund Bullock
  • Caroline Bingley – Marsha Fitzalan
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Judy Parfitt
  • Director – Cyril Coke

pride-and-prejudice-1980-elizabeth-bennet-and-george-wickham-x-400I will spare you the rehash of the synopsis and cut to the chase. This adaptation flies freely by the strength of the screenplay and the interpretation by the director and actors. They act like Regency era ladies and gentlemen and in the manner that Jane Austen intended. Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet is perfection—as clever and impertinent as her book persona. If she has any defect it is that she is too perfect, appearing too controlled at every moment and not quite as spirited and flawed as one would expect. Her hero Mr. Darcy, portrayed by David Rintoul, is flawed, but that is his strength. He is stiff as a wooden solider and we hate him until we meet him again at Pemberley two thirds through the story. But, his portrayal is as Austen wrote the character: noble, proud, arrogant, overconfident and infuriating. His transition to a more open and engaging personality is a gradual shift which grows as his affection for Elizabeth does. His transformation from an arrogant prig to an amiable gentleman suitor for our heroine is a great character arch well worth waiting for.

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Every director wants to put their own stamp on a classic and I cannot condemn Cyril Coke for taking his chance. He does not swerve off the garden path too far. There are two moments that are his creations that are memorable for me. The first was when Darcy hands Elizabeth the “be not alarmed, Madame,” letter after the first proposal. Elizabeth and Darcy meet along a path at Rosings Park and he hands her his letter. She accepts it and takes a seat on a fallen tree and reads it. We hear David Rintoul’s beautiful velvet voice and perfect diction, as a voiceover as she reads the letter. As he walks away from her, the camera pulls back and follows him. As he gets father away we see both Elizabeth and Darcy in the frame become smaller and smaller. It is quite affective in relaying his presence and driving home the fact that as she reads his explanation of his behavior, and she has her “until this moment I never knew myself” revelation, we are left with the sinking feeling that he has walked out of her life, and now how will she get him back?

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The second great moment comes when Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are touring Pemberley. They have been told by the housekeeper that Darcy is far away in Town so they tour the estate with ease and awe. As they walk in a garden adjacent to the house, Elizabeth is admiring the facade and looks down to see Mr. Darcy’s dog appear around a corner of the building. His master soon follows and walks into the garden and is surprised to find Elizabeth at his home. They have an awkward meeting and Elizabeth and Darcy are stumbling for words and very uncomfortable. Mr. Darcy does not have a dog in the original novel, but this addition of the well-trained spaniel, as proud and contained as his master appearing as a foreshadowing to Elizabeth was brilliant.

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The secondary characters really shine in this production too. Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins is just priceless. He is tall and toady and just the perfect smarmy buffoon. Peter Settelen as George Wickham is such a handsome, charming cad that we want to love him like Elizabeth is tempted to do. There is a scene where he and Lizzy are walking in the garden and all I can concentrate on are his canary breeches! Judy Parfitt gives us an imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh that is quite younger than I had envisioned in the book, but still as imposing.

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Since the 1980 P&P aired there has been one major miniseries filmed in 1995 and a theatrical movie in 2005. Everyone has their favorite and I have this pet theory why Janeites love one version and abhor another. Everyone seems to bond with the first version that they see, so for those who love the 2005 Keira Knightley version with pigs in the Longbourn kitchen and Mr. Darcy walking across a misty morning glade to find Elizabeth in her nightgown, or the 1995 version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy taking a bath or a dip in Pemberley pond, think long and hard about what Jane Austen wrote about and what she wanted us to experience with her characters, and watch the 1980 version again.



And, what may you ask is the P&P litmus test? Why the first proposal scene of course. If the screenwriter, director, and actors can portray the misguided, passionate tension of Mr. Darcy and the cool indignance of Miss Eliza Bennet in Austen’s masterful scene as well as it unfolds in the 1980 version, then there is hope for the rest of the production.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice (1980)
BBC Worldwide (2004 re-issue)
DVD (226 minutes)
ASIN: B000244FDW


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

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A Jane Austen Daydream: A Review

A Jane Austen Daydream: A Review

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
-Northanger Abbey

A sneak preview of the cover for A Jane Austen Daydream

When Scott Southard set out to write a novel about Jane Austen, he purposefully avoided reading any of the recent spate of biographical fiction. This was to be an un-biography—the life he wished Jane might have led—a Jane Austen daydream. His goal, as stated in the dedication, was to make his wife laugh.

As a male writer, writing fiction featuring perhaps the most famous female writer of all time, Southard was in a class, if not by himself, then with very few to compete with. Certainly, he brings a new spin to the Austen oeuvre. His Jane is unlike any I’ve ever read—“a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice” if you will. A sharply tongued Marianne to Cassandra’s Elinor. Indeed, the world he has created for Jane, beginning with her life in Steventon, is full of characters that would later appear in one form or another in her works. Her dear friend Harriet, for instance, is a duplicate of Harriet Smith, in Emma.

Some may find this to lack creativity, they might assume that the author is indicating that Jane was unable to create realistic characters on her own, for the Jane in this novel is a writer, and does, over the course of the book, complete several of her now famous works. Others might look on it with the delight of discovering an old friend in an unexpected place. I prefer to think of it as the latter. After all, this is not a biography (as those familiar with the life of Jane Austen will quickly note) and it was written to make his wife laugh. How better to do that, you might ask, than to create a Lady Catherine De Bourgh imbued with the spirit of Mrs. Jennings? This is only one of the “sightings” which fill the book, adding to a diverse cast of characters, both real and imagined.

While shielding himself from recent publications, Southard saturated himself, instead, in Jane Austen’s own writings, reading through her works several times throughout the development of this novel. This familiarity with the entire Austen canon shines through, with much of the dialogue taken directly from her novels and letters (but with a twist). Lines are spoken “out of context”, combined with conversations from other works, and placed back into the mouths of Austen’s own friends and family.

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