9/13/99 Ray Mitchell - [grm34@mailcity.com] The elusive Miss Austen

Dear Folks,

I went to England looking for Jane Austen, and fully expected to find her.  I came away dissatisfied. After making the trip and then thinking about it for over a month, I think I have reached some understanding. I am going to set it out simply. Then I will try to explain.

I do not have the high level of emotional involvement with Jane Austen that I have with some other writers. Of all the authors I have read, I enjoy reading our Lady most of all. Having said that let me try and explain why I did not find her in England. Years ago when my children were small I would stay up till all hours reading. During one such early morning I was reading the part in Look Homeward Angel where Ben dies. I was taken completely away by the writing and I was in that room in Asheville as Ben was dying and I was devastated by his death. Just at that moment I felt someone touch my arm. I was startled back to reality. I saw standing beside me my three-year-old daughter. She crawled up into my lap and hugged my neck. She did not say a word, just kept her arms around my neck for a few moments.  I was so overcome that I could not gather my wits together enough to say a word. The juxtaposition of Ben’s death and the young life of my daughter tore me apart. Then my daughter got out of my lap and went back to bed. Is there a chance in this world that I will ever forget that moment?

Several years later I was in Asheville and when I went to the Wolfe home I was overcome by the experience. In short, Wolfe was there. I stood at the door to the room where Ben died and had all the memories of Wolfe’s writings flood over me.

When I read A Farewell to Arms, I was in the boat when they rowed across the lake. I walked away in the rain at the end of the book. I walked Spain with Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises. When I went to the Hemingway memorial in Idaho and saw his bust framed between the trees and took in the lines written on the memorial, he was there.

Now, I think I see why I did not find Jane Austen. I can not recall that she has ever touched my soul. My mind and my heart, yes, but not the center of my being.

Remembering where I am, I hasten to say that the fault here is probably my own. On the other hand, I wait with interest examples which will set forth how Jane Austen has, for others, managed to get past their mind and their heart and into their soul.


9/7/99 Cheryl - New Austen Manuscript Found!!!!

Dear JA Fans,

I was just wondering if anyone else saw the short paragraph in the newspaper today indicating that a new JA manuscript may have been found.

At least that's the only thing I can think of when told that a new JA movie about a "young girl's sexual awakening" is in the works.  In case you don't recognize the novel, it's called Northanger Abbey and due to hit the theatres next year.

It doesn't quite beat the rumor that the big screen version of Mansfield Park will have, - I am not making this up, - Mary Crawforrd falling in love with Fanny instead of Edmund, but at least this info is verified (if we may call it so) by the syndicated gossip column in my local newspaper.
Cheryl


9/12/99 John - Mansfield Park, Toronto International Film Festival - September 1999

Dear Cheryl,

The 1999 Miramax film directed by Patricia Rozema is being revealed at the Toronto International Film Festival this month.

Website newspaper columns do not make it clear that Rozema does her usual lesbian film direction thing in Mansfield Park, although an Ottawa Citizen column in 1998 suggests that this may be. However $18 millions later, what seems to a fact is that Rozema has taken it as really offal that all that English leisure should be paid for by slavery, rape, and torture and that slavery is Austen's main thrust in Mansfield Park. (You have forgotten this part? Remember, Sir Thomas went to Antigua?)

Oh, and there are many who may be glad to hear that Fanny Price has flung off her timid and insipid cloak to reveal herself as the the avenging angel straightening out the evil Bertram family (well, not Edmund).

The cinematography may be really beautiful whatever else happens.

"The Official Website of the Toronto International Film Festival" has been elusive to me. I ought to have bookmarked it. Rozema has said "twee" - I respond "nutso", but I don't know what she has done.  We may all like the Miramax video.
John

P.S.: Also aim your search engine at Mansfield Park - The British Film Institute Catalogue 1999 .


9/12/99 The Meister - John's research and French spies

Dear Folks,

John has e-mailed a great deal of web search-results to me and I thought to pass along a summary.

Here is a link for the cast and pictures for the new filmed version of Mansfield Park. See that same place for some information on a new Northanger Abbey (screenplay by Andrew Davies). You can read a related article at The Times; and another at The Ottawa Citizen.

Here is an excerpt from the Ottawa Citizen:

"Toronto director Patricia Rozema is busy loosening the corset stays that bind the world of novelist Jane Austen -- and England may be in for a bit of a shock. Ms. Rozema has signed a deal ... to adapt Mansfield Park. It's the only completed novel not yet filmed in the '90s Austen craze, ...

And London's literary world is all a-twitter over Ms. Rozema's daring approach to the novel's heroine, Fanny Price. What might that approach be? A breathless diary item in the Sunday Times of London's book section says that Ms. Rozema is "best known for the lesbian art film 'I've Heard the Mermaids Singing' " and "she brings the same perspective to this project."

Ms. Rozema won't comment directly on her script, but she has said her movie version of Fanny will be a writer based "on Jane Austen herself." Her screenplay "is not an archeological dig," she told a Toronto newspaper. "I'm bending to the period (the early 1800s) to make a contemporary movie that happens to be in frocks."

It's her first film since When Night Is Falling, an idealized lesbian love story shot in Toronto in 1996. Ms. Rozema won the Prix de Jeunesse for her 1985 Cannes debut of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, which also has a lesbian theme.

Austen's fans in England have already had to contend with a controversial suggestion aired in the London Review of Books that Austen had an incestuous affair with her sister Cassandra. As Austen's father wrote, Jane was to be "a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion." Which is pretty much how it turned out. Throughout her life, Austen's closest companion and confidante remained Cassandra. Their mother once noted, "If Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate." The two were inseparable and always shared a room. Both sisters remained unmarried. When Austen died, Cassandra destroyed letters she deemed too intimate or scandalous for outsiders. ... Ms. Rozema apparently built her Austen-based version of Fanny Price by drawing on the author's boisterous juvenalia writings.

Mansfield Park has been notoriously difficult to dramatize, partly because Fanny Price -- friendless, neglected, forgotten -- is a dismal character who never drives the book's action. The book was written when Austen was in her mid-30s, and is her most controversial work. In the book, Fanny is adopted by the Bertram family, her mother's relations. The family, casually cruel to the sensitive child, are implicated in scandal and slavery. It also deals with the economic underpinnings of English culture and the impact of money on a woman's life. But Fanny perseveres, and eventually marries the Bertram family's principled youngest son. The book was first published in 1814."

Miss Rozema might have done the honorable thing by writing her own novel. I am sure it would have been applauded by her choir, but she likely lacks the talent to appeal to a wider audience. Instead, she, like Emma Thompson, chose to scribble on the work of a more intelligent and more talented woman's work. In this way, the revisionists can hope that some of the honored reputation will rub off. I suspect that Miss Rozema is uncomfortable enough with her own sexuality to attempt to justify herself by associating her own name with one of the more important intellects of English literature. It won't work; Jane Austen's fame and reputation has lasted nearly two centuries and likely will be remembered longer. The reputation of a thief is interred with her bones if not before.

Jane Austen's father made that comment at Jane's birth. The lamebrains might hope that we would believe that the infants' sexual orientation was already apparent and the father - and then the mother - tacitly approved. Of course, we must admit that Mary Crawford did spend an entire passage wondering if Fanny was "out", but I think she meant something else.

The way that Cassandra's editing of Jane's letters is used in this context is very common. I thought to illustrate that ridiculous process by making an attempt to justify a crackpot theory that I have just now invented. It goes like this: Jane and Cassandra Austen were French spies. They stole Naval secrets from their high-ranking officer brothers which they sent directly to Revolutionary France. The women were handled by a spy-master operating out of Sidmouth. He was also Jane's lover. After his murder by the English counter-intelligence, Jane accepted the assignment to assassinate the Prince of Wales. This author/spy actually wrangled an invitation to his palace and went with a stiletto concealed in her clothing. The attempt was foiled when the Prince was called away on another matter. Jane Austen's treachery became known to the English authorities who slowly poisoned her (Addison's disease indeed!) Now you know why it was that Cassandra carefully eliminated any evidence of her own role in this conspiracy by destroying her sister's letters. And have you never wondered why it is that no letter sent to Jane Austen survives? The point is that every aspect of this fantastic story has a tangency with a real fact in Jane Austen's life. With enough imagination one can seem to prove anything - it takes another approach actually to discover something.


9/13/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@onaustralia.com.au] Mansfield lesbians?

Dear John,

Oh, spare me, please.  No wonder I don't watch many films - and go out of my way to avoid those based on Jane Austen's novels.  So, what are we to have - Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram leaping gaily over the ha-ha en route to the oak avenue, and splendour in the grass?  Somebody's been out in the sun too long, methinks.

But why leave it there?  What about the obvious, lesbian, incestuous undercurrent between Mrs Norris and Lady Bertram?   To say nothing of the shadowy, but no doubt sinister, Miss Lee? Oh, stuff it, let's just do the whole film naked and have done with it.

I swear I'm going to move to Macquarie Island.  I will, I will.
Julie


9/13/99 John - Interview of Patricia Rozema by Peter Howell

Dear Ashton,

You will see that if you ignore Peter Howell's comments and concentrate on the words of Patricia Rozema that she says that her MP is faithful to Austen and that she believes that Austen and her characters were/are "straight".

You will see this if you can ignore her belief that all of Austen's adult letters have been burned and that the secret purpose of MP is to make an anti-slavery statement.

Aside from this and that and her making Fanny a drill sergeant (if she does do this) intent on straightening out the morally sloppy Bertrams, I suspect that Janeites will enjoy Rozema's MP.

I am not certain how I got here, but I shall bookmark the page so that it will not be necessary to re-enter The Toronto Star's maddening web site for the interview.
John

[Excerpts from]
Austen powers Rozema

By Peter Howell
Toronto Star Movie Critic

Patricia Rozema had an intimate affair with Jane Austen. And she still loves her, she really does, despite their differences in being separated by two centuries, two continents and Rozema's sensible Canadian distrust of Austen's mannered and fusty world.

The Toronto filmmaker's previous work, including I've Heard The Mermaids Singing, White Room and When Night Is Falling, is known for contemporary settings, a fondness for lesbian characters and scenes of often wild surrealism. This made Rozema, 41, an unlikely and somewhat controversial choice when it was announced she was taking on the first big-screen adaptation of Mansfield Park, Austen's third and most difficult novel, about the discreet inhumanity of the England of the early 1800s.

...

"I enjoy Jane Austen very much as an author, but it all felt vaguely twee to me," she says, ... She agreed to take on the assignment, at the request of Miramax honcho Harvey Weinsten, but only if she could also write the screenplay. The first version of the script she saw was yet another example of the Austen "garden parties" she abhorres. Determined to do better, Rozema went straight to Austen herself for advice on how she wanted to be presented on film. In pouring through the author's novels and youthful letters, ...
"When you really examine her writing, there's this sharp, incisive wit. I re-read her work and stumbled on to her writings as a teenager and discovered a very tough-minded, unsentimental, fantastical kind of writer.
"She was more of a surrealist than I've ever imagined."

Austen was also much more of a social critic than people may realize, ...

But Mansfield Park, published in 1814 between Pride And Prejudice and Emma, saw Austen biting the hand that fed her. In drawing the characters of her least-charming female protagonist, the priggish and poor Fanny Price of Portsmouth, and the mannered and manored toffs of the Bertram and Crawford families of London, she was taking dead aim at a contemporary evil: slavery.

The fine china and fancy living inside Mansfield Park, as with the real-life English high-rollers of the early 1800s (including Austen's own family), was financed by the blood of black slaves, sold and sexually abused by their white masters. In the film, manor patriarch Sir Thomas Bertram (essayed with scathing brilliance by Harold Pinter, the playwright and actor) refers to his thriving Antiguan slavery operation as "paying for the party" at Mansfield Park.

Rozema makes brilliant use of a character's sketchbook in the movie to briefly show horrific scenes of the rape and torture of slaves, scenes that would undoubtedly be cut by American censors if she tried to introduce them in any other way. But she gets the point across. "My real pride and attraction to Mansfield Park was in pointing to the source of income for this garden party," she says.
"Because that's something I've always found lacking in the past (in other Austen films). Who is paying for the party? I can't believe all this leisure. Where did it come from?
"At a couple of stages in the process of the script, some people said (using a musical analogy), `Well, you know this is Mozart. You don't want to get Wagnerian on us.'
"And I said, `Take away the slavery subject and subplot and you take away my reason for doing this movie.' ..."

Perhaps surprisingly, because of her interest in gay love, Rozema didn't make the romantic affairs of Mansfield Park anything more than straight heterosexual coupling. When she began filming the movie, there were rumours in the British press - much to the alarm of "Janeites," the fans of Austen - that Fanny would become come-out and the bedsprings would squeak both ways. Rozema did change Fanny, modelling her more closely after the author; Mansfield Park is Austen's most autobiographical novel. Fanny becomes a writer in the film, a device which allows her to voice the many wickedly wry comments Rozema found in Austen's letters.

But Rozema decided to keep Fanny straight, although it wouldn't have been an exaggeration to suggest that Austen herself was gay. The author never married, although she had male suitors until her death from Addison's Disease at age 42. Her family seemed to think she had something to hide; they burned all of her letters she wrote as an adult.

Her writings contain suggestions of lesbian attraction: Rozema noticed "the language of a crush really seems to come into play" in Mansfield Park, in scenes between Fanny Price and the more wordly Mary Crawford, the society maven who is both Fanny's friend and rival.

Does Rozema believe Austen was gay or bisexual?...
"It's possible, but I don't think so. She loved men; she was proposed to a few times. Many women were single at that age and at that time. Your `past due date' arrived so quickly, much much faster than now, I think."

...
"If you really want to have a rich and fabulous posterity, first you have to write six amazing novels and secondly you have to have your sister burn seven years of your life, in your letters. Because we can project anything into that."

Rozema did, however, have fun with the flirtatious behaviour of Mary Crawford, played by Embeth Davidtz (Schindler's List), toward her shy friend Fanny, played by Frances O'Connor (Love And Other Catastrophes). Costume designer Andrea Galer dressed Davidtz in sensuous, clinging fabrics and plunging necklines to accentuate charms that could turn the head of any man - or woman.
"I never say what Mary's intentions are, but I think she just loves everyone and everything beautiful,

" Rozema says.
"She's quite Machiavellian, as we discover by the end, so to unsettle Fanny with extreme attentiveness would not be beyond her methods. She loves and she loves strongly and clearly right from the beginning. I had to work really hard not to make it too dead obvious, to leave something in question for the audience. But Mary is as straight as the day is long."

...

"These little touches of flirtation with Mary were not unpleasant to shoot, but the rest of it is what it is."

...

"Am I a romantic person? I'm a nihilist in disguise," she says with a chuckle. I laugh at that, but it's true. None of this life means anything, so we may as well make it more pleasurable and kind. And grow in the process of it."

...

Another big change for Rozema was keeping the imagery down to earth. No character flies into space, Superman style, or makes like Cupid with an arrow. There's also no erotic imagery of women floating nude in water, although the opening credit sequence lends itself to sexual suggestion.

Some Rozema flourishes remain in the way Fanny address the fourth wall - the audience - and in the artful pauses the film takes near the end. But this is her most restrained work yet.

...


9/7/99 John - Personas

Dear Ray,

Following Ashton's invitation to return to May postings, I saw for the first time your invitation for helpful advice on a persona that you could adopt for I suppose the hunt for Jane Austen.

The next time that you require a suitable persona my suggestion is that you avoid both Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler because these characters are both gone with the wind and go instead as Ashley Cooper, thus giving yourself a character both ante- and post-bellum for it is written that someone has said that a South Carolina teacher has reported that a pupil had written that the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet at Charleston where they form the Atlantic Ocean, which, surely you agree, gives you a direct connection with England, past, and future. It may be that Charles Austen, RN, had visited both Washington and Charleston, although not so likely Atlanta.  Perhaps the next time you see the log books for his ships, you might like to look inside and see which American cities that he visited.

I hope that I have been helpful.

My chief purpose in this posting is that following Ashton's pointer brought me to postings of exquisite beauty concerning Mansfield Park and I must thank Ashton for what I suspect was also in his mind. Otherwise, in the usual way of following postings from the archives, it might have taken substantial time to reach these postings.
John


9/8/99 John - Branwell Bronte, the Beatles and their Mrs. Robinsons

Dear Julie,

Were the Mrs. Robinsons of Branwell Bronte and the Beatles the same person?
John

From the Meister: Simon and Garfunkel?


9/9/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@onaustralia.com.au] The Robinsons

Dear John,

Well, she was long-lived, but not quite that indestructible.  I take your point, however Mrs Robinson of Thorpe Green certainly shares some similarities with the lady in the film - though I don't believe the former drank.  She became Lady something or other, rather indecently fast, following her remarriage after her first husband's death - Branwell, meanwhile, remaining convinced that only the terms of her late husband's will prevented her from marrying HIM.  As if.  She did send him money, though, after his dismissal, which was probably cruelty more than kindness, as she allowed him to believe that she still gave the proverbial rat's arse about him.
Julie


9/7/99 John - Mark Twain and, of course, Fanny Price

Dear Voices,

Because words do not always mean what they seem at first glance to say and because Mark Twain may very well mean the opposite of what he seems plainly to say and because I have been brought up short by an explanation that may be familiar to you all, it seems prudent to ask the Voices whether there is in past submissions an interpretation of his remarks that prove that Mark Twain was a true and faithful Janeite, as I now conclude that he was and is. If there is such material posted to the board, I should be grateful for direction to it, and it could save you all from looking up toward the ceiling and entreating the patience of Fanny Price if I were to plunge forward out of darkness, eagerly proclaiming ancient news.

As well, it may be proper to mention here that there is a place in my mind that I call "Fanny Price's Staircase" from which I ascend to rooms of cool understanding and from which I can descend to a place of light and grace before passing out to the material world where people struggle to find their share of happiness as they can and as they see it.  Or I can sit quietly on the staircase as I watch Fanny sobbing out the despair of her helpless young heart and being consoled by Edmund and later passing up and down to and from the experiences that  formed a character of infinite integrity.  Sitting on that staircase, I wonder why Jane Austen risked her most important novel by presenting the principal character as the meek and bloodless nobody seen and disliked by many of her readers. In this essay or sermon, looked at from the staircase, is Jane illustrating the Christian doctrine that the meek shall inherit the earth? Mansfield Park, like all the novels, is undoubtedly Jane's way of arguing in favour of a certain world- view, but who, why, and what is Fanny Price? Why has she been pushed forward on stage to be the unlikely star of this great novel?

If you can help me understand what Jane Austen has done in creating Fanny Price, a note will find me on the staircase, most days. Please remember that C.S. Lewis has reported already what hatred the devil has for Fanny.  I need to hear from the other side, from Thomas Aquinas or the Archangel Ariel--or Joan of Arc (I do not think that Bernard Shaw has told us all that Joan had to say.)
John


9/8/99 Ashton - The man was an anglophobe

Dear John,

As were most Americans at the time, Twain was a dedicated anglophobe. In fact, America was the bastion of anglophobia for the entire world throughout the nineteenth century. That was true even before the great Irish-Catholic immigrations that started some two decades before Twain began to write. It is difficult to remember that since England became our sweetheart at the beginning of the present century and the love affair continues. Twain's Following the Equator is a contribution to that discipline. His treatment of Jane Austen, more than anything, was likely related to that phobia.

You may have noticed that Peter Ustinov has produced an In the Footsteps of Mark Twain for our PBS network. Ustinov retraces Twain's footsteps around the world (including, by the way, a stop in Tasmania). Ustinov's treatment is acceptable in the USA, but he will not win friends in England or in the Commonwealth. It will be interesting to see Julie's reaction - brace yourself, Julie - and you thought that Shannon Sharpe was not a gracious guest!


9/10/99 John - Mark Twain, Bramwell, and S&G

Dear Voices,

Ashton's word is taken as Gospel until someone can show a connection between Bramwell B. and The Graduate. My daughter has this moment dropped in (after an appointment with her dentist.  It seems that she has beautiful teeth) during her stint of cat-sitting for her eldest brother. "Crazy", that's the cat. Seems a thoroughly sane cat to me. She said that Mrs. Robinson is not to be found in the Beatles' songs.  I have revealed that I am no expert in the lyrics of either the B's or Simon & Garfunkel. As well, the car radio was saying something about the refloating of a "yellow submarine" and then singing something about "Mrs. Robinson" just as I was negotiating a turn across three lanes of busy and opposing traffic. Obviously, my mind was down the road, again.

Concerning Mark Twain, it was recalling Ashton's quotations (content, not place) that caused my mental rejigging of the Twain-Austen thing. It happened, I think, on a Sunday evening when I had nothing better to do. One of the quotations came back to me: "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

What caught my attention was "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, words not usually associated with anyone but a Janeite.

About ten years ago, after a long absence from Hertfordshire, I picked up a copy of "P&P" with which to refresh happy memories. You may say, "Oh, dear", when I confess that I had hurled the book across the room in exasperation at least as strong Mark Twain's. (No damage to the drapes and virtually none to the paperback.) My rage was not directed at Jane Austen but at Elizabeth and Darcy. A writer may well direct ire to a fellow writer for upsetting him with the actions of the characters  but for the engagement of the read, it is the characters who have my full attention and can be subject to my full wrath.

I cannot say, and do not believe, that Twain was worse than I was, although more public--in my case, there was merely my startled and then amused Mary-Fanny-Elizabeth-Catherine.

Consequently, I cannot be confident that the words "this omission alone" mean more than "these missing books" by themselves must constitute a fine library.

Mark Twain may well have amused himself by parading about as a hater of Austen, but such parading need not mean that he was not a true Janeite.  He was, after all, a famous wit as well as a writer.
John



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