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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.

Continue reading A Jane Austen Daydream: A Review

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Mary Anning: Regency Paleontologist

Mary Anning: Regency Paleontologist

“[T]he carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”
-Charles Dickens
February, 1865

Mary Anning
Mary with her dog, Tray, painted before 1842, the Golden Cap outcrop can be seen in the background

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Her work contributed to fundamental changes that occurred during her lifetime in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

Anning searched for fossils in the area’s Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide that killed her dog, Tray. Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be correctly identified, which she and her brother Joseph found when she was just twelve years old; the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and some important fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces. She also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods. When geologist Henry De la Beche painted Duria Antiquior, the first widely circulated pictorial representation of a scene from prehistoric life derived from fossil reconstructions, he based it largely on fossils Anning had found, and sold prints of it for her benefit.

mary anning
An actress at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival portrays Mary Anning.

Anning was born in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. Her father, Richard, was a cabinetmaker who supplemented his income by mining the coastal cliff-side fossil beds near the town, and selling his finds to tourists. He married Mary Moore, known as Molly, on 8 August 1793 in Blandford Forum. The couple moved to Lyme and lived in a house built on the town’s bridge. They attended the Dissenter chapel on Coombe Street, whose worshippers initially called themselves independents and later, became known as Congregationalists. Shelley Emling writes that the family lived so close to the sea that the same storms that swept along the cliffs to reveal the fossils sometimes flooded the Annings’ home, on one occasion forcing them to crawl out of an upstairs bedroom window to avoid being drowned.

Richard and Molly had ten children. The first child Mary was born in 1794. She was followed by another girl, who died almost at once; Joseph in 1796; and another son in 1798, who died in infancy. In December that year the oldest child, then four years old, died after her clothes caught fire, possibly whilst adding wood shavings to the fire.The incident was reported in the Bath Chronicle on 27 December 1798: “A child, four years of age of Mr. R. Anning, a cabinetmaker of Lyme, was left by the mother for about five minutes … in a room where there were some shavings … The girl’s clothes caught fire and she was so dreadfully burnt as to cause her death.” When another daughter was born just five months later, she was named Mary after her dead sister. More children were born after her, but none of them survived more than a couple of years. Only Mary and Joseph survived to adulthood. The high childhood mortality rate for the Anning family was not that unusual. Almost half the children born in Britain throughout the 19th century died before the age of 5, and in the crowded living conditions of early 19th century Lyme Regis, infant deaths from diseases like small pox and measles were particularly common.

On 19 August 1800, when Anning was 15 months old, an event occurred that became part of local lore; she was being held by a neighbour, Elizabeth Haskings, who was standing with two other women under an elm tree watching an equestrian show, being put on by a travelling company of horsemen, when lightning struck the tree. The three women were killed, but onlookers rushed the infant home, where she was revived in a bath of hot water.A local doctor declared her survival miraculous, and her family said that she had been a sickly baby before the event, but that subsequently, she seemed to blossom. For years afterward members of her community would attribute the child’s curiosity, intelligence, and lively personality to the incident.

Her education was extremely limited. She was able to attend a Congregationalist Sunday school where she learned to read and write. Congregationalist doctrine, unlike that of the Church of England at the time, emphasised the importance of education for the poor. Her prized possession was a bound volume of the Dissenters’ Theological Magazine and Review, in which the family’s pastor, the Reverend James Wheaton, had published two essays, one insisting that God had created the world in six days, the other urging dissenters to study the new science of geology.

By the late 18th century Lyme Regis had become a popular seaside resort, especially after 1792 when the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars made travel to the European mainland dangerous for the English gentry, and increasing numbers of wealthy and middle class tourists were arriving there. Even before Mary’s time locals supplemented their income by selling what were called “curios” to visitors. These were fossils with colourful local names such as “snake-stones” (ammonites), “devil’s fingers” (belemnites), and “verteberries” (vertebrae), to which were sometimes attributed medicinal and mystical properties. Fossil collecting was in vogue in the late 18th and early 19th century, at first as a pastime, but gradually transforming into a science as the importance of fossils to geology and biology was understood.

The Blue Lias cliffs at Lyme Regis

The source of most of these fossils was the coastal cliffs around Lyme Regis, part of a geological formation known as the Blue Lias. This consists of alternating layers of limestone and shale, laid down as sediment on a shallow seabed early in the Jurassic period (about 210–195 million years ago). It is one of the richest fossil locations in Britain. The cliffs could be dangerously unstable, however, especially in winter when rain caused landslides. It was precisely during the winter months that collectors were drawn to the cliffs because the landslides often exposed new fossils.

Their father, Richard, often took Mary and Joseph on fossil-hunting expeditions to make more money for the family. They offered their discoveries for sale to tourists on a table outside their home. This was a difficult time for England’s poor; the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars that followed caused food shortages. The price of wheat almost tripled between 1792 and 1812, but wages for the working class remained almost unchanged. In Dorset the rising price of bread caused political unrest, even riots. At one point Richard Anning was involved in organising a protest against food shortages.

In addition the family’s religious views as dissenters—not followers of the Church of England—attracted further discrimination. Dissenters were not allowed into universities or the army, and were excluded by law from several professions.When her father died in November 1810 (aged 44) he had been suffering from tuberculosis and injuries he suffered from a fall off a cliff— he left the family with no savings and a significant amount of debt, forcing them to apply for parish relief.

The family continued collecting and selling fossils together, and set up a table of curiosities near the coach stop at a local inn. Although the stories about Anning tend to focus on her successes, Dennis Dean writes that her mother and brother were astute collectors too, and her parents had sold significant fossils before the father’s death.

Drawing from an 1814 paper by Everard Home showing the Ichthyosaurus platyodon skull found by Joseph Anning in 1811

Their first well-known find was in 1811, when Mary was 12; Joseph dug up a 4-foot ichthyosaur skull and a few months later, Mary found the rest of the skeleton. Henry Hoste Henley of Sandringham, Norfolk, who was lord of the manor of Colway, near Lyme Regis, paid the family about £23 for it, and in turn he sold it to William Bullock, a well-known collector, who displayed it in London. There it generated considerable interest, because at a time when most people in England still believed in the Biblical account of creation, which implied that the Earth was only a few thousand years old,[19] it raised questions about the history of living things and of the Earth itself. It was later sold for £45 and five shillings at auction in May 1819 as a “Crocodile in a Fossil State” to Charles Konig, of the British Museum, who had already suggested the name Ichthyosaurus for it.

Mary’s mother Molly, initially ran the fossil business after Richard’s death but it is unclear how much actual fossil collecting she did herself. As late as 1821 she wrote to the British Museum to request payment for a specimen. Joseph’s time was increasingly taken up by his apprenticeship to an upholsterer, but he remained active in the fossil business until at least 1825. By that time Mary had assumed the leading role in the family business.

Anning continued to support herself selling fossils. Her primary stock in trade consisted of invertebrate fossils such as ammonite and belemnite shells, which were common in the area and sold for a few shillings. Vertebrate fossils, such as ichthyosaur skeletons, sold for more, but were much rarer. Collecting them was dangerous winter work. In 1823, an article in The Bristol Mirror said of her:

This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide: – to her exertions we owe nearly all the fine specimens of Ichthyosauri of the great collections …

The risks of her profession were illustrated when on October 1833 she barely avoided being killed by a landslide that buried her black-and-white terrier, Tray, her constant companion when she went collecting. She wrote to a friend, Charlotte Murchison, in November that year: “Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.”

Letter and drawing from Mary Anning announcing the discovery of a fossil animal now known as Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus, 26 December 1823

As Anning continued to make important finds, her reputation grew. On 10 December 1823, she found the first complete Plesiosaurus, and in 1828 the first British example of the flying reptiles known as pterosaurs, called a flying dragon when it was displayed at the British Museum, followed by a Squaloraja fish skeleton in 1829. Despite her limited education, she read as much of the scientific literature as she could obtain, and often, laboriously hand-copied papers borrowed from others. Palaeontologist Christopher McGowan examined a copy she made of an 1824 paper by William Conybeare on marine reptile fossils and noted that the copy included several pages of her detailed technical illustrations that he was hard pressed to tell apart from the original.[14] She also dissected modern animals including both fish and cuttlefish to gain a better understanding of the anatomy of some of the fossils with which she was working. Lady Harriet Silvester, the widow of the former Recorder of the City of London, visited Lyme in 1824, and described Anning in her diary:

The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.

An 1842 sketch shows the house 16 years after Anning left it. The table on which she displayed her fossils sat right outside the window to the cellar workshop seen to the right of the stairs.

In 1826, at the age of 27, Anning managed to save enough money to purchase a home with a glass store-front window for her shop, Anning’s Fossil Depot. The business had become important enough that the move was covered in the local paper, which noted that the shop had a fine ichthyosaur skeleton on display. Many geologists and fossil collectors from Europe and America visited Anning at Lyme, including the geologist George William Featherstonhaugh, who called Anning a “very clever funny Creature.” He purchased fossils from her for the newly opened New York Lyceum of Natural History in 1827. King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony visited her shop in 1844 and purchased an ichthyosaur skeleton for his extensive natural history collection. The king’s physician and aide, Carl Gustav Carus, wrote in his journal:

We had alighted from the carriage and were proceeding on foot, when we fell in with a shop in which the most remarkable petrifications and fossil remains—the head of an Ichthyosaurus—beautiful ammonites, etc. were exhibited in the window. We entered and found the small shop and adjoining chamber completely filled with fossil productions of the coast … I found in the shop a large slab of blackish clay, in which a perfect Ichthyosaurus of at least six feet, was embedded. This specimen would have been a great acquisition for many of the cabinets of natural history on the Continent, and I consider the price demanded, £15 sterling, as very moderate.

Carus asked Anning to write her name and address in his pocketbook for future reference—she wrote it as “Mary Annins”—and when she handed it back to him she told him: “I am well known throughout the whole of Europe.”As time passed, Anning’s confidence in her knowledge grew, and in 1839 she wrote to the Magazine of Natural History to question the claim made in an article, that a recently discovered fossil of the prehistoric shark Hybodus represented a new genus, as an error since she had discovered the existence of fossil sharks with both straight and hooked teeth many years ago. The extract from the letter that the magazine printed was the only writing of Anning’s published in the scientific literature during her lifetime. Some personal letters written by her, such as her correspondence with Frances Augusta Bell, were published while she was alive, however.

As a working-class woman, Anning was an outsider to the scientific community. At the time in Britain women were not allowed to vote (neither were men too poor to meet the property requirement), hold public office, or attend university. The newly formed, but increasingly influential Geological Society of London did not allow women to become members, or even to attend meetings as guests.The only occupations generally open to working-class women were farm labour, domestic service, and work in the newly opening factories.

Although Anning knew more about fossils and geology than many of the wealthy fossilists to whom she sold, it was always the gentlemen geologists who published the scientific descriptions of the specimens she found, often neglecting to mention her name. She became resentful of this. Anna Pinney, a young woman who sometimes accompanied Anning while she collected, wrote: “She says the world has used her ill … these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.” Torrens writes that these slights to Anning were part of a larger pattern of ignoring the contributions of working-class people in early-19th-century scientific literature. Often a fossil would be found by a quarryman, construction worker, or road worker who would sell it to a wealthy collector, and it was the latter who was credited if the find was of scientific interest.

Sketch of Mary Anning at work by Henry De la Beche

Along with purchasing specimens, many geologists visited her to collect fossils or discuss anatomy and classification. Henry De la Beche and Anning became friends as teenagers following his move to Lyme, and he, Mary, and sometimes Mary’s brother Joseph, went fossil-hunting together. De la Beche and Anning kept in touch as he became one of Britain’s leading geologists.[32] William Buckland, who lectured on geology at the University of Oxford, often visited Lyme on his Christmas vacations and was frequently seen hunting for fossils with Anning. It was to him she made what would prove to be the scientifically-important suggestion that the strange conical objects known as bezoar stones, were really the fossilised faeces of ichthyosaurs or plesiosaurs. Buckland would name the objects coprolites. In 1839 Buckland, Conybeare, and Richard Owen visited Lyme together so that Anning could lead them all on a fossil-collecting excursion.

She also assisted Thomas Hawkins with his efforts to collect ichthyosaur fossils at Lyme in the 1830s. She was aware of his penchant to “enhance” the fossils he collected. She wrote: “he is such an enthusiast that he makes things as he imagines they ought to be; and not as they are really found…”. A few years later there was a public scandal when it was discovered that Hawkins had inserted fake bones to make some ichthyosaur skeletons seem more complete, and later sold them to the government for the British Museum’s collection without the appraisers knowing about the additions.

The Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz visited Lyme in 1834 and worked with Anning to obtain and study fish fossils found in the region. He was so impressed by her and her friend Elizabeth Philpot that he wrote in his journal: “Miss Philpot and Mary Anning have been able to show me with utter certainty which are the icthyodorulites dorsal fins of sharks that correspond to different types.” He thanked both of them for their help in his book, Studies of Fossil Fish.

Another leading British geologist, Roderick Murchison, did some of his first field work in southwest England, including Lyme, accompanied by his wife, Charlotte. Murchison wrote that they decided Charlotte should stay behind in Lyme for a few weeks to “become a good practical fossilist, by working with the celebrated Mary Anning of that place…”. Charlotte and Anning became lifelong friends and correspondents. Charlotte, who travelled widely and met many prominent geologists through her work with her husband, helped Anning build her network of customers throughout Europe, and Anning stayed with the Murchisons when she visited London in 1829.

Gideon Mantell, discoverer of the dinosaur Iguanodon, also visited her at her shop.

Anning’s correspondents included Charles Lyell, who wrote her to ask her opinion on how the sea was affecting the coastal cliffs around Lyme, as well as, Adam Sedgwick—one of her earliest customers—who taught geology at the University of Cambridge and who numbered Charles Darwin among his students.

By 1830, because of difficult economic conditions in Britain that reduced the demand for fossils, coupled with long gaps between major finds, Anning was having financial problems again. Her friend the geologist Henry De la Beche assisted her by commissioning Georg Scharf to make a lithographic print based on De la Beche’s watercolour painting, Duria Antiquior, portraying life in prehistoric Dorset that was largely based on fossils Anning had found. De la Beche sold copies of the print to his fellow geologists and other wealthy friends and donated the proceeds to her. It became the first such scene from what later became known as deep time to be widely circulated. In December 1830 she finally made another major find, a skeleton of a new type of plesiosaur, which sold for £200.

“Duria Antiquior” by Henry De la Beche

It was around this time that she switched from attending the local Congregational church, where she had been baptised and, in which she and her family had always been active members, to the Anglican church. The change was prompted in part by a decline in Congregational attendance that began in 1828 when its popular pastor, John Gleed, a fellow fossil collector, left for the United States to campaign against slavery. He was replaced by the less likeable, Ebenezer Smith. The greater social respectability of the established church, in which some of Anning’s gentleman geologist customers such as Buckland, Conybeare, and Sedgwick were ordained clergy, was also a factor. Anning, who was devoutly religious, actively supported her new church as she had her old.

She suffered another serious financial setback in 1835 when she lost most of her life savings, about £300, in a bad investment. Sources differ somewhat on what exactly went wrong. Deborah Cadbury says that she invested with a conman who swindled her and disappeared with the money,but Shelley Emling writes that is not clear whether the man ran off with the money or whether he died suddenly leaving Anning with no way to recover the investment. Concerned about her financial situation, her old friend William Buckland persuaded the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the British government to award her an annuity, known as a civil list pension, in return for her many contributions to the science of geology. The £25 annual pension gave her a certain amount of financial security.

Anning died from breast cancer at the age of 47 on 9 March 1847. Her work had tailed off during the last few years of her life because of her illness, and as some townspeople misinterpreted the effects of the increasing doses of laudanum she was taking for the pain, there had been gossip in Lyme that she had a drinking problem. The regard in which she was held by the geological community was shown in 1846 when, upon learning of her cancer diagnosis, the Geological Society raised money from its members to help with her expenses and the council of the newly created Dorset County Museum made her an honorary member. She was buried on 15 March in the churchyard of St. Michael’s, the local parish church. Members of the Geological Society contributed to a stained-glass window in her memory, unveiled in 1850. It depicts the six corporate acts of mercy—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting prisoners and the sick, and the inscription reads: “This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.”

After her death, Henry De la Beche, president of the Geological Society, wrote a eulogy that he read to a meeting of the society and published in its quarterly transactions, the first such eulogy given for a woman. These were honours normally only accorded to fellows of the society, which did not admit women until 1904. The eulogy began:

“I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without advertising to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge of the great Enalio-Saurians, and other forms of organic life entombed in the vicinity of Lyme Regis …”

Charles Dickens wrote an article about her life in February 1865 in his literary magazine All the Year Round that emphasised the difficulties she had overcome, especially the scepticism of her fellow townspeople. He ended the article with: “The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it

 


 

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Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

One regret I have in my busy life is the lack of leisure time I have for reading. Right now there are four stacks of books on the floor of my office, all waiting to be read. So many books! So little time. Given my schedule, I am glad I set aside the required hours to read Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Jane Austen-inspired stories by published Jane Austen sequel authors and edited by Laurel Ann Nattress.

I rarely read anthologies front to back, but flit here and there, landing instead on a story with an intriguing title or by a favorite author. In this instance I began with Stephanie Barron’s tale of Jane And the Gentleman Rogue: Being a fragment of a Jane Austen mystery. I am so glad I did, for it prompted me to linger longer over dinner and read another short story. Beth Pattillo’s  When Only a Darcy Will Do was a delight, as was Margaret C. Sullivan’s Heard of You, which I read just before going to bed. The list of authors in this anthology is impressive: Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Brenna Aubrey • Stephanie Barron • Carrie Bebris • Jo Beverley • Diana Birchall • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Monica Fairview • Amanda Grange • Syrie James • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Alexandra Potter • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret Sullivan • Adriana Trigiani • Laurie Viera Rigler • Lauren Willig.

I’ve always enjoyed reading anthologies. They allow one to pick and choose on a whim, and finish a story in a short space of time. Anthology stories serve as literary versions of amuse bouches, those tasty bites served at the start of dinner. Even the most the discerning reader is bound to find selections and authors they will love. (Or discover a new author!) Click here to read a short synopsis of each story.

I favored some stories over others, but won’t share them with you for the simple reason that some of the stories I disliked received rave reviews on other blogs. Anthologies appeal to a variety of tastes, and I found it remarkable how many in Jane Austen Made Me Do It captivated me.  If you decide to purchase this book, I can guarantee that you will discover new authors and stories that you will want to reread.

This is due, no doubt, to the hard work that editor Laurel Ann Nattress put into the project. As a blogger, I can’t imagine how much of her time was spent in contacting the authors and working with them, overseeing a contest for an  unpublished author (the honor went to Brenna Aubrey), working with her publishing house in editing the stories, and now publicizing the book. I tip my hat to Laurel Ann for overseeing this ambitious and very worthwhile project, for this is her first book.  I give Jane Austen Made Me Do It  five out of five Regency tea cups!

Ballantine Books
Trade paperback (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0345524966
List Price: £9.99


Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.

This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.


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Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons a review by Heather Laurence

Castle of Wolfenbach

The Castle of Wolfenbach – Eliza Parsons

“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! — What are they all?”

“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”

“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”
–Northanger Abbey

 

If you were recently introduced to Northanger Abbey through the ITV film, or if you’ve already read the book, you may be curious to know more about the Gothic novels Catherine and Isabella planned to read together.

The Castle of Wolfenbach was written by Eliza Parsons and published in 1793. Our heroine is a “wretched Matilda” as per Henry Tilney’s Gothic pastiche, and we meet her in flight from her lecherous uncle, seeking refuge in the suitably ancient and haunted Castle of Wolfenbach. As in Northanger Abbey, Matilda explores a forbidden wing of the castle, and makes the very discovery Catherine Morland had hoped for: the horrifying mystery of the missing Countess of Wolfenbach. But when Matilda’s uncle tracks her down, can she escape his despicable intentions? Will she ever discover the secret of her parentage? And what must and will happen to throw a suitable hero in her way?

Other Northanger touches include Mademoiselle de Fontelle and the young widow Mrs. Courtney, who feign friendship with Matilda while slandering her and poaching her beau – these two could be older sisters of Isabella Thorpe. Matilda’s true friend, Adelaide de Bouville, is a modest and cultivated young lady (not unlike Eleanor Tilney) who just happens to have an unmarried older brother. And our valiant hero, Count de Bouville, makes a desperate port-to-port chase around the Mediterranean in pursuit of Matilda, who is imprisoned on a Turkish pirate ship (!). Henry Tilney got off easy: he only had to ride as far as Fullerton.

The Castle of Wolfenbach is much shorter than Ann Radcliffe’s novels, and does not indulge in the lengthy descriptions of the picturesque which may make The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian slow reading. Melodramatic plot and characters and the heavy-handed anti-French, pro-Protestant English propaganda make Radcliffe seem moderate by comparison, but these excesses provide a lively (and snark-worthy) read: for example, Matilda spends the book alternating between fainting and crying, and when reunited with her long-lost mother, they simultaneously sob and swoon. (The apple didn’t fall far from that tree.) It’s easy to imagine Jane Austen, who warned against fainting fits in Love and Freindship, having a laugh over this overly sentimental scene.

Castle of WolfenbachValancourt Books, an independent press based in Chicago, is in the process of publishing a complete set of the “horrid” novels on Isabella Thorpe’s list. Many of these books have been out of print for several years, and until they were described in Michael Sadleir’s 1927 essay, The Northanger Novels: A Footnote to Jane Austen, there was some question whether Jane Austen had simply made up the titles. Now a few editions can be found with some detective work, but Valancourt’s series is readily available and especially useful to Jane Austen fans:

I’m in the process of reading Valancourt’s “Northanger Novels” and have found the editor’s notes very interesting and useful. Notes typically include the author’s background, discussion of each novel’s contribution to Gothicism, and how it applies to Northanger Abbey. To date, Valancourt Books has published The Italian, Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, and the most recently published Necromancer of the Black Forest. Also available: The Veiled Picture by Ann Radcliffe, a chapbook reduction of The Mysteries of Udolpho for those who are wild to know what lurks behind the black veil, but perhaps are put off by the length of the original. Valancourt Books is a treasure trove of rare and previously out-of-print Gothic goodies, and their web site is well worth a look.

Northanger Abbey is a lively, entertaining novel in its own right; knowledge of the Gothic tradition is not at all necessary to enjoy it. As I work my way through Isabella’s list, my appreciation grows: I admire Jane Austen’s ability to pack so many rich, clever references into such a concise and elegant package.

List Price: £8.99

Publisher: Valencourt Books

ISBN-10: 0977784169

ISBN-13: 978-0977784165

*****

Like Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland, Heather Laurence enjoys country walks and horrid novels. Her web site Solitary Elegance is best known as a resource for all Northanger Abbey-related radio plays, stage plays, and screenplays. She also writes for AustenBlog and lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two sons.

This review orginally appeared on Austenblog. Used with kind permission.

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Emma (2009) on Masterpiece Classic: A Review

A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Sage advice from the philosophizing Forrest Gump. The same can be said of Jane Austen adaptations. Last nights US premiere of screenwriter Sandy Welch’s newly retooled Emma on Masterpiece Classic had its mix of nuts, chews and soft centers. Most viewers will be tempted to consume it quickly like the beautifully crafted confection that it is. I prefer to take a small bite first to see what I’m getting.

Emma may very well be the last Jane Austen adaptation (or any other bonnet drama) that we see on television for quite some time (now available to purchase online here). The BBC is feigning Austen fatigue after years of milking the almighty cash cow. Since 2005 we have been treated to a new major movie or television production of each of Jane Austen’s six major novels. Emma (2009) completes the set. Time to bring on the reality television and grittier fare. So speaketh auntie Beeb. Because of their partnership with the BBC, Masterpiece PBS is hooked into their decisions too, though I suspect with more regret than they will admit since Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton remarked last week “We are not stupid: Jane Austen is catnip to our audience.”

This new Emma has almost everything that this bonnet drama geek could hope for in an Austen film adaptation: four hours to develop the story to its fullest, beautiful, beautiful production values, a seasoned and award winning screenwriter and a cast dappled with some of Britain’s finest veteran actors and up and coming stars. What’s not to like? How could it go wrong? Let me extol upon its many charms and a few foibles.

As host Laura Linney began her introduction, I was waiting for her to pop in Jane Austen’s famous ironic remark about Emma Woodhouse, “a heroine no one but myself will much like.” She did not disappoint. Over the centuries Emma has had her share of advocates and adversaries. She is actually a bit of a pill. Handsome, clever and rich with nothing to vex her, she is not one of Austen’s typical financially challenged heroines. There in lies the rub. We are not in the least sympathetic to her situation, and in fact, quite annoyed by her self-deluded notions of merrily matchmaking for her friends with disastrous results. In the three previous adaptations of Emma, we have seen her portrayed as an elegant toffee-nosed snob by Doran Godwin in 1972, an immature busybody by Kate Beckinsale and a mischievous altruist by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996. Now Romola Garai has been passed the baton and plays it close to Austen’s intensions, but with thrice the emotion.

Emma (2009) might just surpass the venerable 1995 Pride and Prejudice in superior production values. It is a visual delight, skillfully crafted by a gifted production team of designer Stevie Herbert and art director Pilar Foy. Bravo. The stately Regency-era homes chosen to stand-in for the Woodhouse estate of Hartfield (Squerryes Court, Kent), Mr. Knightley’s residence at Donwell Abbey (Loseley Park, Guildford, Surrey) and the village of Highbury (Chilham, Kent) elegantly and historically set the stage for all of the other production elements.

The costumes designed by Rosalind Ebbutt may not have been completely period accurate as to color, but the coordination of color schemes to the set of actors in a scene and within the room it was filmed in was stunning. I particularly appreciated Emma Woodhouse’s lovely pale coral evening gown and Harriet Smith’s virginally white frock at the Crown Inn Ball. Ebbutt has a keen eye for accessories and her use of jewelry and shawls was striking, but sadly I was quite disappointed in the bonnets which tended to be too droopy and not quite as refined and highly fashioned as one would wish. Highbury is in the country, but the elegant Miss Woodhouse can still be allowed a bit of London millinery foppery. The gentleman’s attire was tolerable, though I admit to feeling more than a bit embarrassed by the cut of Mr. Knightley’s waistcoat in one scene that made him look rather like he was twelve and in need of ten years to grow into it. Many of the actors have director of photography Adam Suschitzky to thank for making them look glowingly elegant and refined. Ladies never look so fine as by candle light and the interior evening scenes of the Woodhouse dinner party, the Christmas eve dinner at Randalls and the Ball at the Crown Inn were particularly flattering.

When I read the original casting announcements I was a bit surprised by some of the choices. I had been rooting for Richard Armitage as Mr. Knightley and could envision no other in his stead. When the part was given to Jonny Lee Miller, I was crestfallen. On the other hand, I was pleased by the selection of Romola Garai as Miss Woodhouse. I had enjoyed her performances in I Capture the Castle and Atonement and thought her a talented young actress. Interestingly, I would change my position on each of the leads, resisting Miller at first, then growing to admire his comedic timing while accepting Garai immediately until her overplay of emotion with eye popping and exaggerated facial expressions was totally distracting. I will admit though, that she did improve upon acquaintance. As Miss Woodhouse matured through the course of the narrative, so did my respect for her.

Among the secondary characters that stood out most in this large ensemble cast was Louise Dylan as Emma’s dear friend and plaything Harriet Smith. Happily she did not play Harriet as a complete airhead as we have seen in the past by Toni Collette in the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version. I am Miss Smith’s warmest admirer of her character in the novel and always cast a critical eye on her portrayal in adaptations. Ms. Dylan filled the part emotionally, but she looked a tad bit more than 17 to Romola who did not look 21 either, so there you have it. On the comedy/tragedy front Tamsin Greig’s interpretation of the garrulous Miss Bates was really heart wrenching to experience in opposition to the ditzy and dotty versions by Sophie Thompson or Prunella Scales in the two 1996 Emma productions. She made me cry at the Box Hill picnic scene. You could really feel her fear and trepidation as a spinster living in genteel poverty at the mercy of the kindness of her neighbors the Woodhouse’s and Mr. Knightey. Blake Ritson gave us a Mr. Elton that I had not thought possible, but I enjoyed. Austen had described him as handsome, which Mr. Ritson certainly is, but I had thought of him as more of a toad than a suave charmer.

My greatest disappointments in characterization were Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Elton, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Michael Gambon who portrayed Mr. Woodhouse is a legend. He was given little to say and looked way too healthy for the part of a valetudinarian who is frightened by a piece of cake. Christina Cole as the vulgar Mrs. Elton missed the mark completely. Since social rank in marriage was everything in Regency society, she is far too pretty to play a rich woman who would accept a country vicar as a husband. In addition, her delivery of some of Austen’s most brilliantly biting lines was decidedly flat. Laura Pyper as the reserved Miss Jane Fairfax was a beautiful and accomplished foil for Miss Woodhouse, but too demure for my sensibilities. I liked Olivia William’s edgier kettle ready to boil over containment in the 1996 version. Ah Frank Churchill. Rupert Evans looked the part and spoke the part, but he did not live the part. No one in my estimation has yet to fill those boots with enough oozing charm and decided deception.

Now for the cream as Emma says to Harriet. Was this a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s masterpiece of characterization and biting social commentary? Hardly. Screenwriter Sandy Welch has taken the bones of Austen’s brilliant story and padded it with her own words. Very little of Austen’s amazing language remains. A few quotes here and there, but this is entirely her own imagining. Director Jim O’Hanlon has built upon that premise and interjected a totally different tone and energy to Austen’s original subtle and underplayed story that some of her adversaries have said is about nothing. Possibly they felt it was also about nothing and needed to modernize it with heightened emotion and darker depths. Austen revealed in the first chapter of Emma that ‘The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way.’ Ironically, this Emma could have been perfection if the screenwriter and director had heeded Miss Austen’s warning and not used their power to go their own way. As Austen adaptations go, this nonsensical Emma is the best of the last six supplied, but I still feel we have a way to go in interpreting Austen faithfully to the screen. Was it enjoyable? Certainly. Will I watch it again? Without hesitation.


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose a blog devoted to the writing of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present she delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.

Visit the official Emma Masterpiece Classic website

Watch Emma online from Jan 25th to March 9th.

Purchase Emma on DVD

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Almost Persuaded: ITV’s Persuasion

Persuasion 2007

The game is afoot in ITV’s Persuasion as Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) speed walks down a maze of hallways in Kellynch and jogs down the streets of Bath in what was, presumably, the film makers’ attempt to add action and energy to Jane Austen’s posthumously published 1817 classic. No doubt, the film’s creators felt challenged by a novel with more substance than could possibly be squeezed into a 90 minute time frame and by the precedent of the critically acclaimed 1995 Persuasion which set the standard for Jane Austen film adaptations very high indeed. Screenplay writer Simon Burke and director Adrian Shergold resorted to some rather desperate maneuvers to make this version unpredictable and a bit surprising, but their stratagems were not always successful. Some of the camera work is dizzying, and, at the conclusion of the film, when the compressed plot finally implodes, the viewer may well be left confused as to what just happened and why. If you are searching for an adaptation that is accurate to Jane Austen’s novel, this is not it, but, standing alone as a film, Persuasion has much to recommend it.

Sally Hawkins has a sweet, open face, and, like Amanda Root, those large, liquid eyes inspire the viewer to sympathize with her. Ms. Hawkins cries very convincingly. As she is in nearly every scene and has a great many close-up shots, the film proves something of a showcase for Hawkins, who held up remarkably well, not only as an actor but as an athlete. Eventually, the viewer forgives the ITV Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) for not being Ciaran Hinds, but it’s difficult to imagine a pretty boy like Penry-Jones commanding a battleship of hardened seamen in the Napoleonic Wars.

The sets and scenery are splendid, one can never grow tired of Bath, the costumes charming, and the supporting cast talented, but Jane Austen’s sense of humour appears to have been lost somewhere along the way, a damning criticism to be sure, and following hard on the heels of ITV’s clever and witty Northanger Abbey, one was encouraged to hope for better. And more’s the pity, as Austen supplied plenty of humour in the novel. In this film, Sir Walter (Anthony Head), Elizabeth Elliot (Julia Davis) and Mary Musgrove (Amanda Hale) are more appalling than funny, and some of their best lines were cut, such as Mary Musgrove’s immortal whine: “If there is anything disagreeable going on men are always sure to get out of it.” Who is responsible for such an omission?

Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove (Nicholas Farrell & Stella Gonet), Charles (Sam Hazeldine), Louisa (Jennifer Higham), Henrietta (Rosamund Stephen) and the Crofts (Peter Wight & Marion Bailey) are given minimal dialogue, and perhaps the time constraints demanded some neglect of their characters, but there are other inexplicable changes. While Captain Benwick (Finlay Robertson) is reduced to little more than a plot device, if you blink you may miss him entirely, Captain Harville (Joseph Mawle) becomes a matchmaker. Mr. Elliot (Tobias Menzies) is an obvious cad from the start, an arrogant, impudent puppy of the highest order, and yet the otherwise prudent and overly cautious Lady Russell (Alice Krige) recommends him to Anne. Why? Unfortunately, Lady Russell’s judgment is not the only lapse of common sense in this film.

What about the invalid Mrs. Smith’s (Maisie Dimbleby) unexplained and miraculous cure which not only allows her to rise from her bed and walk but to sprint down the street calling out the latest gossip like the town crier? And how did Kellynch Hall, an entailed estate under lease to a tenant, suddenly become available for purchase? But, apparently, these are minor details and should arouse neither curiosity nor interest. We are merely the viewers. Ours is not to question why, or to question at all. We are, presumably, to be bowled over by the love story, to care about nothing else and to sit back and enjoy a painfully prolonged build up to a kiss and an impromptu waltz on the lawn. The good news is that the ITV Persuasion seems to improve on subsequent viewings. The trick is in forgiving it for being neither Jane Austen’s novel nor the 1995 film. Aye, there’s the rub.

Persuasion was filmed on location in Bath and Lyme Regis. The film was shown in March on ITV in Britain and is available at our online giftshop. Click here.

Sheryl Craig is an Instructor of English at Central Missouri State University. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.

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Northanger Abbey 2007: The Continuing Saga

Another Jane Austen novel is being dusted off for the big screen. This time, Miramax films is co-producing Northanger Abbey. It’s a $9 million feature adaptation of Jane Austen’s first published novel. Shooting begins this fall in Bath, an historic city to about 150 kilometres southwest of London and well-known to Austen. Bath is noted for its handsome 18th century architecture.
May 25, 1998 CBC Infoculture

Such was the news in 1998. Now, nearly ten years later, Northanger Abbey has finally made it to film, albeit on the small screen. The story of how it finally made it to television is not unlike Jane Austen’s original difficulty in having her book published!

The manuscript for Northanger Abbey (written, according to Cassandra Austen, in 1798-99) was sold by the Rev. Austen to Richard Crosby & Co. in 1803 under the title Susan. It was the first of Austen’s stories to be sold and commanded the princely sum of £10. It is clear that Crosby & Co. had no idea of its value. Though they advertised it as a forthcoming work, they let it rest on their shelves, unread and unpublished. After the sale of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen was at liberty to buy back her work, though under an assumed name. Crosby & Co. should never know how close they came to success.

After retouching the work and writing a preface explaining to her readers why they might find some of her story antiquated, she set the work aside. Though Austen called the work Miss Catherine in private, it would not be printed until after her death in 1817, when it was retitled Northanger Abbey and bundled, by her brother Henry, into a four volume set which also included Persuasion.

Andrew Davies was first noted by Jane Austen fans for his Emmy nominated adaptation of Pride and Prejudice(1995) and Jane Austen’s Emma in 1996. The idea for writing one of Jane Austen’s works came after previewing the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey. He remembers the evening well: ‘It was an interesting, quirky adaptation and afterwards Sue [Birtwistle – Producer of Pride and Prejudice and Emma] turned to me and said: “I know what I’d like to do: Pride and Prejudice and make it look like a fresh, lively story about real people…..Would you like to adapt it?” It’s a favorite book of mine, so I said, “Yes,” and that was that.’

Regarding Jane Austen’s works, Davies says, “there is a certain amount of liberty that you can take. You can’t change the actual story, but there’s always some hidden scenes in the book that Austen didn’t get around to writing herself, and it’s nice to fill in some of the little gaps.” Davies says he had great material to work with, since Austen “writes the best plots and characters, and her dialogue is terrific. So while there’s this little craze I’m just going to take advantage of it for all I’m worth.”

Northanger Abbey was his third attempt scripting one of Jane Austen’s novels and fans around the world eagerly awaited the fruit of his labor. As Austen biographer Deirdre Le Faye put it, “The 1986 version was awful. Andrew Davies certainly could not do worse than that.”


By 1998, Davies had written a script for ITV which was then purchased by Miramax Pictures, producers of Emma and the soon to be released Mansfield Park. Davies looked forward to the opportunity to see his work on the big screen, but after the failure of Mansfield Park in 1999, Miramax shelved all Austen projects. It was a disappointing time for Davies as his script was no longer his to command.

For years afterward, rumors flew rampant about the upcoming production of the film—- first that actress Rachel Leigh Cook had been signed to play Catherine, and later, that Martin Amis had been hired to redraft the script— still—no action was taken. It was not until 2005 when Pride and Prejudice finally made it to the big screen that a new Austen film phenomenon began to take place. Suddenly there were four versions of her novels being filmed for television and a new biopic headed for theaters.

Miramax claimed that though they were thrilled with the original script from Mr. Davies, they were unable to find a director for the picture. Whatever the case, the script was eventually reacquired by ITV in 2002 and relegated to a back burner until the spring of 2006. At that time ITV began plans for their Spring 2007 Jane Austen Season to feature all new adaptations of Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and finally, Northanger Abbey, perhaps the most anticipated film of all.

A cast of Austen newcomers was assembled and filming began with Ireland standing in for Bath and the surrounding countryside. Felicity Jones was signed to play Catherine Morland and JJ Field took the part of Henry Tilney. A few familiar faces appeared in the guise of Mrs. Allen (Sylvestra Le Touzel, Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price, 1983) and Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan, Kitty Bennet in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice).

Running a scant 93 minutes, Northanger Abbey manages to hit the high points of Austen’s novel, retaining it’s sometimes comic feel and satisfying, romantic ending. Changes have been made and purists will cry out at some of the plot rearrangements. The Mysteries of Udolpho, so central to the original story, though mentioned here, has been replaced by The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis’ 1796 horrifying gothic novel with Faust like overtones. Catherine’s imaginings, well recalled from the 1986 version, are alive and well here, and give the film it’s TVPG rating.

William Beck makes a suitably obnoxious villain as John Thorpe and Mark Dymond’s brooding Capt Tilney a satisfying match for Isabella’s wayward heart. The rest of the Tilney family is also well cast, with Liam Cunningham as an aging General Tilney and Catherine Walker as Henry’s retiring elder sister, Eleanor. Her romance is hinted at when we receive a brief glimpse of a clandestine meeting with her beloved. The Morland children are shown en masse and we can well imagine Catherine’s simple, happy childhood. Hugh O’Connor gives a convincing portrayal as her elder brother, James Morland, a man who loved ‘not too wisely, but too well.’

The costumes are lovely and the scenes sumptuous with period details abounding. There are numerous country dances danced and a variety of Regency past times portrayed. All in all, Northanger Abbey, while not a definitive portrayal of Jane Austen’s first novel, remains a delightful way to spend an hour and a half. The timeless romance of the story is left intact and the acting well above the average in a television movie. To quote Mr. Davies, “Felicity Jones was just about perfect as Catherine…and JJ Field made a very persuasive Henry Tilney.” Few would disagree with that!

Northanger Abbey is available in Region 2 DVD format from Amazon.co.uk. It is set to air in the United States in November during Masterpiece Theater’s Fall/Winter schedule on PBS. Check your local listings for dates and times.


Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets and reticules in the Regency style. Sources for this article include The Making of Pride and Prejudice, by by Susie Conklin and Sue Birtwistle, as well as personal correspondence with Mr. Davies.

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Pride and Prejudice 2005: Cinderella Meets Mr. Darcy

Is Pride and Prejudice primarily a Cinderella story? How you answer that question may well determine whether you will enjoy or detest the 2005 Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen film.

When spending quality time with Jane Austen’s novel, gentle reader, do you imagine paint peeling from the Bennet family home or picture Longbourn’s back garden as a filthy barnyard? Does Mr. Bennet potter about the house unwashed, unshorn and unshaven? Does his beloved library resemble the leftovers of a jumble sale? One might assume that the Bennets could do better with an estate that is lawfully their own and two thousand a year. However, this appears to be Director Joe Wright’s interpretation of the novel as “social realist drama.” Dear me. And what would Jane Austen make of that?

The poverty, grime and crumbling gentility adds what Wright refers to as “a bit more street,” if this is considered desirable. But what is “street” about Mr. Darcy trudging through a foggy field, white shirt front agape, looking for all the world like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights? Or was it an attempt to offer up Matthew Macfadyen as a wet shirted substitute for Colin Firth? Other choices seem to defy any analysis. Why turn Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) into a giggling idiot, someone not safe to be let out unattended? Why would Darcy befriend such a man, and what could possibly induce Jane Bennet (Rosamund Pike) to shackle herself to him for life? Charlotte Lucas (Claudie Blakley) appears fortunate by comparison. Charlotte’s fear of poverty and her resulting acceptance of Mr. Wrong is well done, if a bit overly dramatic, but the film’s actors are not to be blamed for its faults. Indeed, the casting seems nearly flawless.

Knightley delivers a credible performance as a spirited Elizabeth, and Macfadyen need not be ashamed of his Darcy. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Donald Sutherland & Brenda Blethyn) are given sympathetic makeovers. A kinder, gentler Mr. Bennet proves to be a compassionate father and an amorous husband not entirely indifferent to his frowzy, careworn wife, and Mrs. Bennet’s poor nerves actually merit some compassion.

Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) is not given enough screen time for one of the greatest comic characters ever created. Lady Catherine fares a bit better, perhaps common decency demanded it, as the role is absolutely perfect for Dame Judi Dench, but when Lady Catherine descends on Longbourn with a vengeance, her tirade is over all too soon, and this scene illustrates one of the film’s glaring weaknesses. The pace is much too rapid. Characters burst onto the screen, hurry through their lines and rush off with alarming rapidity. One fears that a great deal of talent was laid waste in the cutting room.

The rousing dance scene was enjoyable, but awkward attempts to add sexuality were annoying. The novel’s witty repartee and the chemistry between Knightley and Macfayden already suggest enough, thank you. In a film so obviously at war with its time constraints, Elizabeth’s fascination with a collection of nude statues at Pemberley wasted valuable minutes and added nothing, though a group of twelve year old boys might disagree. But was this the imagined audience? And one wonders why it was deemed necessary for the camera to linger on a pig. A pig? You well may ask.

Comparisons to the 1995 Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth television adaptation are inevitable. Granted, the six hour BBC time frame opened up a great many opportunities to unfold the story and to develop the characters in keeping with the “light, bright and sparkling” authorial intent. When it was first announced that there would be a new, Hollywood film of Pride and Prejudice, your humble servant was immediately skeptical. To quote Mr. Bennet in the novel, “what is there of good to be expected?” My own prejudices firmly in place, I never-the-less entered the theatre agog with curiosity, and, to give myself credit, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2004 Bollywood Bride and Prejudice, so I was not entirely without hope.

Pride and Prejudice played to a full house, and some members of the audience appeared to enjoy the film. Others, like myself, found it a bit of a disappointment, yet I may well go to see it a second time and will probably purchase the DVD in the fullness of time. I do such things; God help me. I can only conclude that the viewer must ultimately judge for him or herself, so this review will end with some words of wisdom from Mr. Bennet: “Perhaps you would like to [see] it. I dislike it very much. but it must be done.”

Availble to purchase at our online giftshop. Click here!

Sheryl Craig is an Instructor of English at Central Missouri State University. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.