12/26/99 Ray Mitchell - more kissing

Dear Folks,

The following review was in today's Atlanta Constitution under the headline

"Jane Austen Updated--Too Bad"
Mansfield Park
Verdict: A bit clueless.

Details: Frances O'Connor and Alessandro Nivola. Directed by Patricia Rozema. Rated PG-13 for brief violence, sexual content and drug use. 1 hour, 38 minutes.

See it: Local theaters and showtimes for Mansfield Park

Rate it: Write your own review

Review: In recent years, Jane Austen's work has accommodated everyone from Ang Lee to Alicia Silverstone. But somehow, Austen and Patricia Rozema, who gave us the winningly daffy "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing," don't hit it off so well.

Rozema has "modernized" Austen's third novel, "Mansfield Park." She's given it a dash of lesbianism, a pinch of feminism and a dollop of social conscience (the slave trade figures as the tainted source of the family's money). Further, she has extrapolated portions of Austen's own journals into the scribblings of the heroine, who now wants to be a writer (she has no such literary ambitions in the book).

Thus, this "Mansfield Park" becomes a kind of romanticized gloss--an imaginative grad-student thesis that melds author and character. It sounds intriguing enough on paper, but on screen, it loses much of Austen's sparkle, wit and point. And hearing an Austen heroine worry about slavery is a bit jarring--like hearing one of the Pokémon characters ruminate about the effect of the atomic bomb on the emotional life of postwar Japan.

The story, in many ways, sounds more like something out of Dickens. Ten-year-old Fanny Price is lifted from appalling poverty by fate and genes. She's sent to live with her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, at Mansfield Park. Her position is a little uncertain--not quite family, yet not quite a servant. But then, everything at Mansfield Park is a little uncertain &3151; from the imperious patriarch, Sir Thomas (playwright Harold Pinter), to his laudanum-addicted wife (a very funny Lindsay Duncan, who also doubles as Fanny's poor mother back in Portsmouth).

Fanny grows up to be Frances O'Connor, a cute-as-a-button paragon of smarts, integrity, writing skills, you name it. Her best friend and soul mate is Edmond (Jonny Lee Miller), Sir Thomas' second son (the first is mostly busy slaving in Antigua). Clearly, they're made for each other, but then there'd be no plot. So onto the scene burst the thoroughly modern Crawfords, Henry (Alessandro Nivola) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz), a charmingly unscrupulous brother-sister act, who manage to turn things topsy-turvy at staid Mansfield Park.

O'Connor, an Australian actress who is already attracting comparisons to Nicole Kidman, seems gloriously happy as a paragon  she suggests Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music," without the songs or the kids to upstage her. Everyone in the movie keeps telling her how terrific she is (usually addressing her by her full name). Even Lady Bertram manages to stumble out of her happy haze to declare, "The next time the pug has a litter, you shall have a puppy!"

Rozema's at-arm's-length contemporary agenda may work as an intellectual exercise, but it robs the movie of any sense of anything being at stake. Or, for that matter, of who some of these people are. A last-act reconciliation between Sir Bertram and his eldest son would be touching, I guess, if the son hadn't spent most of his time off screen in Antigua. It's as if Rozema, deep down, didn't trust the material. Maybe "The Bridget Jones Diaries" is more her style.

--Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Cox News Service

There was also a photo of Fanny in a mad clinch with Edmond. Frankly, after all the hype I was expecting to see Fanny and Mary Crawford doing who knows what.

12/26/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@bigpond.com] Picky, picky

Dear Ray,

But nevertheless, if people are being paid to write, then they may as well write right!  Could you contact the author of that review and point out that there can be no such animal as a 'Sir Bertram'? He could have been 'Lord Bertram', had his rank been higher, but as a 'Sir', the title must be followed by his Christian name.  In the case of his wife, however, she is 'Lady Bertram' because hers is a courtesy title derived from her husband's.  Lady Catherine was Lady Catherine, on the other hand, because hers was her own title, and not derived from that of her husband, Sir Lewis, but rather from her father, who was a Lord.  The fact that Lady Catherine comments that her own and Darcy's paternal lines are 'ancient, honourable, but untitled' indicates that Sir Lewis was a knight   Sir Thomas Bertram, as a baronet, would pass on his title to his eldest son, but knighthoods were (and are) not inherited, so Sir William Lucas' son would suffer the misfortune of having his name '(sunk) under the chill, the annihilation of a Mr...'

That other work mentioned:  I heard the Mermaids Singing:  there is a book about living in Greece written by a wonderful Australian author, called Mermaid Singing.  No connection there, I suppose?

12/27/99 Dave Payton - [Hitz53@aol.com] Mansfield Park and other disasterous adaptations

Dear Miss Julie, Ray and Ashton,

I still haven't read Mansfield Park and still haven't seen the film, but I've been thinking about film adaptations of novels in general and have a few corn-pone opinions about the same ("show me where a man buys his corn pone and I'll tell you his opinion." -Mark Twain).

I've been working in the machine shop for over twenty-five years and one thing they taught us during the apprenticeship course is: "You can't go wrong following the blueprint. If the print is wrong, that's the fault of the engineer and/or the draftsman, but you've given them what they asked for."

I've come to the conclusion that many film makers feel they know more about the material than the author whose work they are adapting. The analogy would be that the author designed a P-41 during P-41 times and the film maker is trying to make an F-22 out of the print. The result is a jet powered plane that has a propeller plane fuselage and wing section. The result is disaster and the movie goer pays the price when there's a crash.

There seems to be something in movie makers that seems to make them think that the movie goer is somewhat dumb. It's an arrogance that borders on hubris.

Think of the recent television movie adapations of famous works. This year there was a version of the story of Noah's Ark in which the ark was attacked by pirates. I checked my Bible and saw no such incident. But, the film maker may have been relying on a new theology that I haven't heard of. And there was an adaptation of Moby Dick starring Patrick Stewart that was an absolute abomination. It seemed to be using Jaws as the text instead of Melville's classic.

Does anyone remember the Demi Moore vehicle, The Scarlet Letter? Or as I call it, Carry on, Hester? I couldn't figure out if they were working from Hawthorne, The Crucible or a Russ Meyers script.

Even Stanley Kubrick got into the act with A Clockwork Orange. I was impressed with the movie until I found that Kubrick had used the American edition of Burgess' novel which expurgated the last chapter of the original work in which Alex is redeemed through nothing more than age. Kubrick was surely familiar with the English edition of the novel since the film was made in England.

The only author I can think of who thought the film adaptation of his novel was as good as (in fact better than) the novel was Thomas Dixon who wrote The Clansman. As a matter of fact, when he saw the film he urged D.W. Griffith to change the title of the film to The Birth of the Nation because he thought the film so much greater than the book.

What I'm trying to get to is something that I think I've written before. Movies and literature are two completely differet things and most of the time one should have nothing to do with the other. Movies do nothing more than disappoint a certain segment of a novel's readers. Consider Sherlock Holmes. In the stories Holmes never smoked a calabash (an addition by the actor Wm. Gillette), rarely wore a deerstalker and only wore an Inverness cloak while in the country.

In a sense, film adaptations of novels (except those written with the screen in mind, and their names are legion) are a form of pollution. There are exceptions, of course (i.e. A&E P&P), but even then something is left out. Films, for the most part, operate without context because they haven't the time to establish context. Also, many film makers are more concerned with subtext than with the text itself.

If I had my way, film makers would work from librettos instead of novels. I think that films are more suited for the operatic form than for the novelistic form. In any case, film makers seem to think that they are working from the loosest of librettoes and we should regard them as such.

Movies and novels are two completely different things and usually the movie is the lesser of the two. To use an expression from the New Testament, novels are meat, movies are milk.

Now I'll take a pinch of Copenhagen and calm down.

12/20/99 Dave Payton - [Hitz53@aol.com] An essay by Claudia Johnson on Rozema's Mansfield Park

Dear Ashton,

The December 20, 1999 edition of the L.A. Times contains an essay entitled "This is a Mansfield Park Worth Visiting" written by Claudia Johnson who is professor of English at Princeton University. The essay is a defense of the new MP movie that basically says that those who don't like the film just don't get it because they're stuck in a staitjacket of their own perceptions of what JA's world was.

I can't address the issue because MP is one book I haven't read yet. I would be interested in your and the community's reaction to the essay.

This Is a 'Mansfield Park' Worth Visiting
(Claudia L. Johnson is a professor of English at Princeton University in New Jersey.)

Jane Austen never imagined how aptly her remark--"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other"--would describe her own fans. Some of them decry the new movie "Mansfield Park," written and directed by Patricia Rozema, for defiling the original with its indecent liberties, while others hail it as a witty and frankly modern take on Austen. Rozema's movie is controversial because a powerful nostalgia motivates many assumptions about Austen, who is imagined to have celebrated a life that unfolded before the advent of the ills of modernity--such as doubt, war and, more recently, feminism and multiculturalism. In Austen's time, it is fancied, everybody spoke wittily and knew what to do; men were gentlemen and women were ladies; the desires of gentlemen and ladies for each other were straightforward; houses and furnishings were magnificent--and, damn it, those who don't agree should read someone else's novels!

No wonder directors and performers have a hard time bringing the inventiveness, panache and contemporary edge to Austen that is routinely brought, say, to Shakespeare: The whole point is to preserve her in an unruffled past.

Half the Austenian world is furious because in Rozema's movie--more of a free reading, an intervention, than an adaptation--the manor is cold and dilapidated, there are no loving shots of tea services, characters themselves notice the rift between manners and morals, and sex and power make everything untidy. We can't escape to a world that looks like our own.

But was Austen really so placid? The other half thinks not, and loves the energy, irreverence and even bitchiness of her wit, the sharpness of her social criticism and the power of her characters' passions, honed by intelligence and complicated by good manners. We coolly smile at the other half's indignation because we know that Austen was unblinking and often shockingly unsentimental about sex.

In the novel, hero Edmund inadvertently tortures heroine Fanny by reporting how he and his father discussed her improving "figure," while Fanny's father, noting the same maturation, refers to her only "to make her the object of a coarse joke." The crisis of the novel hinges on rank adultery, and even licit love teeters on incest and unseemliness: Rakish Henry gets turned on to Fanny by watching her complexion glow in the presence of her brother, and Edmund greets Fanny (his childhood playmate, and the woman he will soon marry) as his "only sister." Nor is homoerotic badinage off-limits, for bad girl Mary flirts with Edmund via Fanny, and Fanny is fascinated.
* * *
To convey the verve of the Austenian narrator, Rozema's movie departs boldly from the novel, and her innovations are jolting at first, but on the score of sexuality she invents little. When she evokes the yearnings of ardor, she is splendidly faithful, and when she shows it in the raw (as Austen does not, preferring indirect reportage), it is as unglamorous as it should be.

Concerning politics as well, Austen was more unblinking than her latter-day, elegiac admirers give her credit for. She knew that manors like Mansfield Park--unlike, say, Pemberley in "Pride and Prejudice"--were built with new money derived from slave labor in the West Indies. Foregrounding this element of the novel, Rozema draws on Austen's well-known attachment to eminent abolitionist writers to make a point that was no longer very controversial at the time: that slaveholding is a form of misrule abroad that leads to misrule and turpitude at home.

Inspired by Harold Pinter's intensity in playing the role of Sir Thomas, Rozema is unrelenting about the brutalizing ugliness of slaveholding, introducing some new scenes to put this across. This method of dramatic exposure is not always Austenian, but the underlying concern about the moral authority of the ruling class is.

" 'I can't get out, I can't get out,' the starling says." Rozema uses Austen's allusion to Sterne to protest confinement--of slaves, women, talents. Toward the end of the film, as swarms of starlings swoop outdoors, Fanny, refigured as an Austenian narrator, comes into her own as a writer, and the camera soars rapturously over the hillside as she tells the story we watch.

Rozema's "Mansfield Park" is about getting free, about the rewards of patience and intelligence and the uplifting clarity Austen herself gives us. At best capturing why my half of the world loves Austen in the first place, it is a glorious cinematic evocation of Austen's shockingly clear yet forgiving vision, and its own stunning achievement of creative freedom.

At last a director has treated Austen not as a sacred text or museum piece but as a living presence who inspires us to take wing ourselves. Half of us, at least, will find a pleasure watching this dazzling, daring and deeply intelligent movie that the other half, as Austen predicted, will never understand.

12/21/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@bigpond.com] Whose Mansfield Park?

Dear Dave,

I must disagree with the good professor.  There can be no such thing as 'Rozema's Mansfield Park', and her references to Shakespeare are in my view irrelevant:  plays are made to be performed, whereas Mansfield Park exists in its own right, as a novel.  We make interpretations in our heads, of course, as we read, but a novel is not a performance piece.  I have no idea (and I'm pretty sure I'll never find out), how meritorious or otherwise Ms Rozema's film may be, but it is not Mansfield Park, and it is most definitely not HER Mansfield Park! The impertinence!

I'm off now to smash a few more cotton gins.

12/20/99 Dave Payton - [Hitz53@aol.com] Millenium and hate

Dear Ashton, Julie and John,

We might as well beat this milleniun thing to a powder and get it over with.

All I know is that the millienium starts as 2001 and the new century starts at 2001. There was a verbal battle at the New York Times between the editorial department and the rest of the staff. The editorial group said that the new century starts at 2001. The rest of the scribes said 2000. Someone with a sense of history took the trouble to go into the archives and pulled up the Jan. 1, 1901 edition of the Times. The headline was something to the effect of "We Begin the 20th Century!"

I think this whole 2000 beginning the millenium thing is a marketing ploy. I think that we will spend the next year being told by people trying to sell us useless stuff that 2001 will begin the new millenium to get rid of the junk that they couldn't get rid of marketing it as millenium stuff for 2000.

Actually, for Christians who follow the church calender, the new year started four weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent and for those who are persnickety, the 2000th anniversery of our Lord's birth took place three years ago.

All that being said, Julie is right. It just doesn't matter. Years as we celebrate them are pretty much a bookkeeping device unless you want to buy a model 2000 car. Then you could have a "double ought spy car" like Jethro Bodine in the Beverly Hillbillies to park next to your cement pond.

I was reading an introduction to Persuation written by D. W. Harding in 1965. This man was a psychologist of some sort and had written and article in 1940 titled "Regulated Hate: an aspect of Jane Austen." This had to do with his perception of JA's dislike of the society in which she lived.

I was slightly taken aback. It just goes to reinforce my idea that if you give a boy an advanced degree he can really come to the wrong conclusion.

I do not think that JA disliked the society in which she lived any more than any of us do. I think that she disapproved and was amused by certain aspects of it, but she also enjoyed it. The problem arises when we try to look at her time through the lens of the 20th century. We now seem to be under some sort of unwritten law that we have to love the world and all within it except for the occasional freak like Hitler or Pol Pot or the Kray brothers. And even then you'll get the camera hungry clergyman who says something like, "We must love this stray sheep into our fold." It's enough to gag a maggot.

All one has to do to get some sort of understanding of JA's attitude toward her society (and people at large) is look at the Book of Common Prayer. I do not have the edition that JA used, but my 1928 American edition, in several places, makes statements concerning the wretched conditon of mankind as sinners (this refers to conditional sin, i.e. we are in sin by nature) and that mankind is unworthy of salvation. ( Don't bother looking at later editions of the BCP. The PC crowd has made it that by believing in God we are doing Him the favor.)

If we assume that JA was a faithful member of the established church we can only assume that she was familier with, and probably believed the rubrics contained within the BCP. Also consider that there was probably more of a Puritan influence in the Church of England at JA's time than there is now, and the Puritan divines had a low view of humanity as a whole.

But this is not to say that JA did not enjoy the world in which she lived. I think that she passed through life with a half smile on her lips at the folly of humanity and occasionally enjoyed a hearty horse laugh at the joy of it all.

To end, I'd like to say a bit about the Puritans. They were NOT the dour and sour group that Menken and Co. would have like us to believe them to be. They enjoyed life and loved nature (read anything by Jonathan Edwards). One writer, I forget who it was, referred to them as "The Worldly Saints." The lived big lives, but what bugs so many people today is that they took their faith seriously. And besides, in America at least, they were probably half drunk a quarter of the time since they drank ale instead of water.

Now I'm going to go order my double ought spy car after shooting crows with my Ellie Mae double barrelled slingshot.

12/20/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@bigpond.com] Bloody mathematicians

Dear Dave,

Well done.

I am quite happy to support Sir (and he still has not, after all these years, woken up to the joke implicit in that title!) or John, or any other bugger who is willing to come and milk my goats on January 1, so that I can sleep off my hangover in peace.  As did Elizabeth Bennet, I will use a fine old (not Scottish) saying, that everyone here is of course familiar with:  I don't give a dead rat's arse what they call January 1, as long as somebody does my work for me.

But to move on to your quotation:  I haven't read the piece you mention, but the introduction of one of the Penguin editions of one of the novels quotes a conversation in which a woman is supposed to have said that she read Jane Austen's novels with great enjoyment when she was young, but that, coming back to them as an adult, she was repelled: 'you know, she HATED people!'  Not at all. Jane Austen was shrewd, reserved, not (and this is crucial) in need of friends, and highly intelligent.  When one considers what was excised from the letters, how much one yearns for the good stuff, that Cassandra removed!  I rather imagine that people who met Jane Austen were attracted to her, for many reasons:  for her own self  because of family and social connections, which were extensive   she, on the other hand, while necessarily bound to the social conventions of the time, did not 'need' people   I cannot imagine her ever being impolite, but she had her friends, and her family, and her writing - and an analytical skill Freud would have died for.  She could see motivation, long before the concept was invented.  I have sat wearily through weeks and weeks of lectures, delivered by eminent psychiatrists, that, in the finish, defend a theory of human behaviour that Jane Austen cleaned up in three sentences.

Incidentally, while not for one moment pretending to Jane Austen's genius, I have had the experience of seeing people virtually crossing themselves and hanging garlic about the room, upon learning that I am a psychiatric nurse: 'You know what I'm thinking!' - No, not unless I'm being paid $25.00 per hour, I don't, because I don't damn well care.

Please excuse the sour rantings of a woman who has been compelled to take her mother Christmas Shopping in the Australian heat, and still has the milking to do!

12/20/99 Ashton - All of which reminds me of Mansfield Park

Dear Dave and Julie,

Very well done.

This discussion is interesting because so many also think Fanny Price is hateful, and readers hate her in return. I was surprised to learn that - did not know that until I made my way onto the internet. I love Fanny Price very much. I was expounding my theories about Miss Price to my wife, and that good woman said "but isn't that just like Jane Austen's experience?" I was shocked, not because I didn't agree, rather I was shocked because I had had no idea that my wife was actually listening to me. I shall be more careful what I say in future.

I have for some time thought that Fanny Price was a wonderful invention. Her lack of any real standing at Mansfield allows her to observe, she is allowed to see far more, say, than Edmund would have been allowed. For example, Maria's indiscretion at Sotherton would never have been made in Edmund's presence. This is all part of Jane Austen's genius.

I have only recently begun to understand something else, something equally important. When Fanny is betrayed by her mother and marginalized by her adoptive family, she reacts in a way that only a person in that situation might react. Fanny seizes upon all notions of correctness of action and will not let go. I mean it seems that a sense of good behavior becomes like an anchor for some in that situation. Fanny Price lacks the strength or stamina of the Savior, but she is like Jesus in the wilderness. Fanny Price does not have his confidence or strength of conviction, but she is as Jesus in the temple with the money changers. I think that is why so many hate her, if Fanny can judge the Crawfords, in such a way, then she might very well judge them as well. They are right about that you know? - those readers who hate her, have much to fear from a Fanny Price - or a Jane Austen.

12/23/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@bigpond.com] Rising Moons

Dear Sir,

I've run a quick poll amongst my goatkeeping friends, and it would appear that island goatkeeping is incompatible with virginity:  of course, having been born on Christmas Day, all of my own children's conceptions have been immaculate, to the surprise and disappointment of my husband, but there it is - rules are rules.  It was the summer solstice here, of course - didn't realise it was a full moon, though - or does that depend on the hemisphere?

12/24/99 Ashton - Jane Austen's Mansfield Park: links to other web sites

Here is a link to a list of e-texts of the novel from the Great Books Index

See especially the highly annotated treatment of Henry Churchyard

12/26/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@bigpond.com] Well, I never! (Well, not often)...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your birthday wishes - I had a lovely day.  I went to the link you mentioned, and the first thing I noticed was the comment on Henry Crawford and the necklace - I said that first!  Cheek.  I've added that site to my 'favourites' list, as I'd not come across it before - this is the only Jane Austen site I access.  Which was the Churchyard contribution, though?  I know that name from somewhere, but can't quite remember where.

I hope you are up to your neck in Christmas dinner, and happily eating your way out. Merry Christmas to all who haven't had it already (which is basically me and Anielka, actually, if the Indonesians haven't nailed her yet for being 'Orstralian').

12/26/99 Ashton - Main-Stream Jane Austen

Dear Julie,

Both of those links are to small parts of much larger web sites. The first is "The Great Books Index" which is devoted to much more than just Jane Austen's novels. I believe that the web master there is Ken Roberts.

The second link is to a portion of the "Jane Austen Information Page", where the web master is Henry Churchyard. If you troll around at that place, you will find some biographical information for him. The web site is huge but only a part of The Republic of Pemberley.


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