The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. June 15, 2000

To All,

"Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life.  But before I am run away with by my feeling on the subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying ..."
"In vain have I struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

So begin Mr. Collins' and Mr. Darcy's proposals, respectively.  Both proposals seem designed to insult the intelligence as well as the feelings of their receiver; both suitors are certain that the advantages of the match leave no doubt as to their success; and even more important, both me are willing to accept Elizabeth Bennet's hand without her love.   Mr. Collins is a fool, of course, but what about Darcy?  How could he have made such an error?

We all know what fundamental changes in view Elizabeth must go through before seeing Darcy as he really is. Her factual errors are revealed in Darcy's letter.  Her prejudice is swept away by the general esteem in which he is held by his friends, cousin, sister, servants, and tenants. And her error of perception falls before a more intimate knowledge of his character.

But Darcy has to make an inner journey also, and, like Elizabeth, must own up to his error and folly before he is ready to woo her second time.

First Darcy has to learn to care about Elizabeth rather than just for her.  I've no doubt from early on that Darcy loves Elizabeth, but that doesn't mean he cares about her. His first proposal is made before Elizabeth has seen the home which he is so certain she will consent to be mistress of, before she has met the sister upon whom much of her future happiness with Darcy is dependent, before she has any knowledge of him other than what he gives himself.  He does absolutely nothing to find out what would make Elizabeth happy should she accept him, and he gives her family no particulars about himself other than the general report that he had ten thousand a year.  Darcy has had too many years as the man whom one " ... should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask," and he will have Elizabeth to secure his own happiness, without ever even thinking about hers.

And it isn't until Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley that Darcy realizes that his own happiness is dependent on not merely possessing Elizabeth, but on securing her love as well.

' "My object then," replied Darcy, "was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past  and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion ... How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you."

Up until that point, in Darcy's mind, it is perfectly rational to secure Elizabeth's companionship without her love, just as it is perfectly rational for her to marry for pecuniary advantage. Never does Jane Austen tell us that Darcy believed  Elizabeth to share his feelings, merely that he " ... believed [her] to be wishing, expecting my addresses." And he admits that it wasn't until his return to Longbourne that his purpose was to " ... judge, if I could, whether I might ever hope to make you love me."

Of course by this time Darcy had already secured Elizabeth's heart, which is a good thing because the only advantage his second proposal has over the first is its brevity:

"You are too generous to trifle with me.  If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once.  My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."

Another rational proposal, to be sure, but if Elizabeth can forgive him, I guess we can too


Dear Cheryl,

Nice try but, for me, your interpretation is a total failure. You fail in exactly the same way that Michael and Julie fail. You ignore that Elizabeth has given clear indications that she is interested in other men. You ignore the fact that Elizabeth has picked a fight with Darcy every time he approached her. Why do you people think that Jane Austen introduced those elements? WHY? Why will none of you respond to that simple question? Your Darcy is a fool - as well as a prig - exactly the same level of fool as Collins.


Dear Ashton,

Exactly how am I ignoring Elizabeth's interest in other men by pointing out that Darcy has every reason to be jealous of Wickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam?  If my Darcy is a fool, than so are Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth, Fanny Price, and everyone else who has ever experienced unrequited love.  As of his proposal at Rosings, Darcy loves Elizabeth, Elizabeth doesn't love Darcy.  Darcy misinterprets Elizabeth, partly because she is unable to give offense due to her "archness" and "sweetness" (I quote, by the way the author here) and partly due to that natural male tendency to believe all women find one irresistible.  This is okay though, because he doesn't deserve her yet, or vice versa. Eventually, Darcy and Elizabeth will grow up enough to deserve one another and happiness will abound. Even, dare I say it, after Darcy discovers that his wife still likes Colonel Fitzwilliam and continues to trade pleasantries with the man.


Dear Folks,

I want to remark on a debate that began, rather innocently, with John's posting of 6/3/00, and then developed into a debate between John and Bruce with contributions from Julie and Linda.

First of all, let me say, that it must be true that religious interpretations, such as these, are extremely important when discussing Jane Austen's novels; anyone who knows anything about our Lady's life and circumstances must acknowledge that. I was very glad to see this element enter discussions at our board and I hope for a whole lot more rather than less of this sort of thing. Personally, I am spiritually challenged; I am very mechanistic, it's big bang and evolution for me. (Would anyone like to learn of my own personal picture of space-time? - it solves a lot of philosophical problems? No, I suppose not, why should you folks be any different?)

I mean that when it comes to spirituality, while not at all antagonistic I am perfectly obtuse and indifferent. As a result I have zilch religious training or inclination. This statement will be a surprise to Bruce who considers me a Puritan (actually, his concerns will grow before this I complete this posting.) However, if our board were to become the center for the religious discussions of the novels of Jane Austen, I would be impressed and pleased to no end.

That said, I want to reply to Bruce's posting of 6/6/00. Bruce attacked two of my favorite characters, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park. He began by quoting two passages from the novel and from that point the debate with John was discussed on religious and doctrinal grounds - on grounds too unfamiliar to me to dare to follow. Instead, I want to give a non-sectarian counter-interpretation.

The first passage deals with a conversation between Fanny and Edmund just after they had become acquainted with Mary Crawford; they were critical of some remarks she made about her own uncle. To Bruce this meant that they were making puritanical remarks about Mary's morality. I don't think so; I think they were commenting on Mary's gaucherie. It is outrageous that she would compromise her own uncle to strangers like that. The man had opened his home to Mary and her brother, and had provided protection, comforts, and society. Even considering the uncle's personal failings, it must be said that he had earned Mary's respect and loyalty. I am not saying that Mary might never discuss her uncle fully with her lover Edmund, but it was very rude of her to discuss the same things with her new acquaintance Edmund. To disagree with me is to be very modern.

The second passage is even more interesting. Again, this was a conversation between Fanny and Edmund. Edmund was describing his last meeting with Mary to discuss his sister Maria's elopement with Mary's brother. Bruce interprets my two heroes as overly pious and unforgiving (irreligious?). I see things quite differently because I don't think that Edmund was discussing Maria with Fanny, he was devastated with the attitudes and reactions of Mary. Mary's only criticism of Maria and Henry was their use of poor tactics. Mary makes it quite clear that she thinks that marital infidelity is alright - even fashionable - if done with care and taste. This is the woman that Edmund was in love with. Mary Crawford's views were certainly in agreement with those of Mary Wollstonecraft, but Edmund and Fanny (Jane Austen?) were expressing the views of some of the rest of us. If one doesn't intend to keep marriage vows, then don't take them I say. Those vows are not in the ceremony because they are easy to observe, they are there because fidelity is difficult. Those vows are promises made to the spouse before the community and families. If a woman (man) has no honor, than what has she (he)? It is difficult for me to say this to an audience who thinks it a duty to arrange for the groom or bride to get laid the night before the wedding, but I think that correct thinking has nothing to do with majority votes. To disagree with me is to be very modern - excuse me - to disagree with me is to be very post-modern. (Help me! Help me keep track - have we moved on to neo-post-modern yet?) Bruce, is it true that you cannot sympathize with the feelings that are overwhelming Edmund?

I want to say something about Sir Thomas, something that some readers forget when they read of his reaction to Maria's adultery. He has more than embarrassment and disappointment to deal with. When he returned to Mansfield Park, he was, at first, pleased to learn of Maria's engagement. However, after he had a chance to become acquainted with Rushworth, he became concerned, went to Maria, questioned her, and made it clear to her that he would not object if she were to end the engagement. Maria then assured her father that she wanted the marriage. Within months of the marriage, she eloped with a man she had known before her vows. This adds greed and duplicity to the list of Maria's transgressions. Sir Thomas had a lot more than an affair of the heart to forgive in his daughter. In my opinion, Jane Austen created in Sir Thomas a man who eventually would receive Maria again - poor bastard.


Dear Ashton et al,

Edmund is free to disapprove of adultery as much as he pleases; indeed he is called on as a Christian to do so by nothing less than one of the ten commandments.  It is not his criticism of Mary Crawford that I disapprove of so much as the language in which he couches it.  He wants Mary to be missish and in vapours ­ to feel "modest loathings" at such a transgression.  When Mary acts like the worldly young woman she is, Edmund is shocked and revolted.

Edmund has created a dream woman in Mary Crawford, and the shocking thing about our hero’s delusions is the nature of our hero’s dream.  He imagines his ideal wife to be not a woman who can act calmly, rationally and decisively in a family crisis, but as a woman who gives herself over to horror, modest loathings, and vapours.  I sympathize with Edmund for having his delusions so clearly revealed, but cannot think that his dream woman is particularly admirable. Personally, I find Mary Crawford’s practical attempt to help loved ones in time of need reasonable, and Edmund’s horror at such practicality unattractive.

As for Sir Thomas’ banishment of Maria to the North, I can only say that I am thankful that my own parents didn’t follow his example when I had a son out of wedlock.  Unlike Sir Thomas, they never thought that acknowledging their grandson would be a slap in the face to their respectable neighbors.  Unlike Sir Thomas, they did not resolve to exile my son and me from all family contact.  Instead, they heartily embraced us both in a loving, accepting and non-judgmental way.

Far from thinking my parents are saints for their behavior, I think they were doing no more than they are required to do on the basis of love, family ties, and parental duty.  I would have been shocked and horrified if they had any other reaction.  Mansfield Park is largely about parental duty, and it remains my opinion that Sir Thomas has not learned his lesson by the end of the book.  It is not only his duty to educate his children, and teach them sound moral principles; it is his duty to love them.  It is in this most important of duties that he failed, and continues to fail.  If Maria had lived with a loving father, do you think she would have so easily consented to a loveless marriage?  Don't many of Sir Thomas' problems spring from this one failing?


Dear Folks,

The video comes out on July 11 ($103). I will not post a review until I own a copy and have studied it thoroughly - I am going to take my time with this one. However, I did find a review at Amazon.com that captured my own thoughts exactly.

This is Rozema's Mansfield Park, NOT Austen's. May 3, 2000
Reviewer: A viewer from New York City

"To be completely honest, I thought this film was a travesty. I see no need to exclude important scenes and change characters' personalities just because you don't like them. This, however, is precisely what Rozema did. This film bears very little resemblance to Austen's novel, and while I am most definitely not a purist, I believe wholeheartedly that Miss Austen is spinning in her grave over this one."

"Austen's Sir Thomas Bertram, while somewhat flawed, is essentially a good man. Rozema turns him into a vicious lecher. Austen's Lady Bertram is not much of anything; Rozema turns her into a drug addict. Austen's Mrs. Norris is an inherently evil woman who emotionally abuses little Fanny; Rozema's Mrs. Norris is just a nosy pest. Austen's Fanny is quiet, reserved and intensely moral; Rozema's is a devil-may-care free spirit. Austen's Tom Bertram was a mindless fop; Rozema's is an ardent abolitionist. Austen's William Price is an example of what was admirable of 19th-century English manhood; Rozema's William Price is...? Well, he doesn't exist, so he's nothing... Those who have never read the book won't understand why Fanny turns down Henry's proposal of marriage (btw, in the book she never accepts it in the first place), or why Fanny does not act in the play. These are very important events in the book, and Rozema glosses over them in favor of pushing her own ... agenda."

"This same ... agenda also leads Rozema to revise history. One glaring example of this is that, in 1806, it was illegal for slave ships to be off the coast of England. Yet Rozema puts them there to beat us over the head with her politics. More minor infractions include clothing and household furnishings which were not authentic to the period."

"All in all, I think it would be appropriate to use Jane Austen's own words when describing this unmitigated disaster: Badly done!"

"I can't give it zero stars unfortunately because, as an adaptation, it deserves none. I can, however, give the cinematography and score several stars each."

Well done!


Dear Meister,

I wrote this review after the long drive home when I saw Mansfield Park in the theater in April (I think it was April.)  The next morning I decided it was too involved and too negative for those who hadn't seen the film yet and posted the short paragraph.   So here, for what it's worth, is my First Impression of the movie "Mansfield Park."  Use it, delete it, line a virtual birdcage with it - whatever.   By the way, I wouldn't call the film a "travesty", I would call it a "car crash" -- horrible, but one can't help but look.
Cheryl

The Two Movies of Mansfield Park
By Cheryl Hoffman

As a reader of Jane Austen, it would be easy to dismiss Ms. Rozema's film Mansfield Park as merely the worst film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel since the 1940 Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly that.  Whatever the faults of the other films, and there have been many, enough of the books has shone through to engage both the avid reader and the general public.  What seems strange is that, by placing the author in the center of her work, writer/director Rozema has failed where so many before her have succeeded.  This is because Rozema has created two films here: a fictionalized look at Jane Austen's life and an adaptation of the novel Mansfield Park.  Janeites are unlikely to be pleased with either aspect of the movie.

As a film for the general public, Rozema is more successful, but only slightly. Mansfield Park plays like a student's precis of the novel, (or really more like a student's precis of the Cliff's notes) failing to reveal vital information about characters and skipping important events. To make matters worse, while dropping events and characters, Rozema inserts a sub-plot about slavery that ends up adding nothing to the film beyond some startling images and a clear view of  Ms. Rozema's own cynicism and hypocrisy.

There are two insurmountable  problems with the film as an adaptation of the novel.  To start, the major players are twisted nearly beyond recognition.  Fanny has become a combination of Elizabeth Bennet & Jane Austen. This makes her more appealing to most of us, but changing the heroine so dramatically forces changes in the other characters.  The most startling is Sir Thomas who becomes petty and nearly vicious, not to mention an adulterer and possible rapist.

The second problem is more serious because it also the major fault of the film as entertainment. So much of the action is left out, the characters wander about doing and saying things for no sensible reason.  Rozema completely skips Henry Crawford's flirtations with Julia and Maria. (The action up to Maria's marriage are covered in less than an hour.) Therefore Fanny's refusal of him and her references to Crawford's character, trustworthiness, his "acting the part" become nonsensical, as does Maria's devastation when Henry's intentions toward Fanny are made known to her.  In addition, Crawford's admiration of Fanny is the result of about 90 seconds of screen time, apparently occurring over the space of a day or two.

Mary Crawford does have one scene in which she lets Edmund know she's not happy about his choice of profession, but as it's never mentioned again, and as Mary seems completely willing, and Sir Thomas encouraging, there's no logical reason for Edmund to delay his declaration of love.  Yet he does, for the long weeks of Fanny's Portsmouth visit.

Rozema's inexperience (this is her second film, I believe) likely accounts for these problems; the assumption that the reader has an equal knowledge of one's characters being the surest sign of the beginning writer.   She is rather more successful as a director, though the tedious over-use of slow motion effects to signal any and all important events shows a lack of confidence, possibly in her actors' abilities, or the audiences' intelligence, or both.

The cast, however is Rozema's least worry.  With the exception of Jonny Lee Miller's Edmund, (apparently Edmund is only acceptable as a hero if he is completely emasculated) they do a great deal with the problematic script.  Harold Pinter's Sir Thomas ends up more like the real Sir Thomas than could be expected  a flawed but redeemable man and father.  Embeth Davidtz stands out as Mary Crawford somehow managing to be absolutely creepy as well as charming and beautiful. Incidentally, the alleged near sex-scenes between Fanny and Mary have been misrepresented and I'll be interested to hear what everyone else thinks once they see them.  Henry is a disappointment, his screen time being taken up with a series of charming smiles, but not much else.

The conceit of having Fanny speak directly to the camera (under the guise of writing to Susan) works as comedy, but doesn't always mesh well with the Mansfield Park plot.  I found it a little disconcerting to hear Catherine Morland's (among others') words coming out of Fanny's mouth, but the temptation to stuff in as many great Austen one liners as possible may be too great to resist. (It's also difficult to resist  the temptation to beat Frances O'Connor with a large stick every time she shrugs  a mannerism that wasn't part of the English vocabulary at the time.)

I would recommend Mansfield Park, although it's not really successful on any individual level. Watching the movie I understood how Fanny felt while visiting Mary Crawford -- repulsed, yet strangely fascinated. Buried in the amateurishness and stereotype of the evil (white) man, and Rozema's fantasy of the perfect Jane Austen, is the fragment of an excellent, though not strictly faithful reading of Mansfield Park.  It peeks out in sudden flashes with a perfect image, or look, or word. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make a good movie, whether one has read Mansfield Park one hundred times or zero.

From the Meister: very well done!


Dear Ashton,

I believe that you and I could narrow the New York writer of this review down to a handful. We also, I think, can be certain about the republic for which she stands. If I am in error, I'll go and eat a bowl of white soup instead of bangers and mash.


Dear Meister,

Harry Potter fever grips children around world

John,


Dear Voices,

Well, I have to admit that I like Harry Potter, but this is too much.  This book is #1 in sales and it hasn't even come out yet!  I work in a bookstore and I have almost 100 reservations for the book already!  I guess everyone should be happy that the kids are reading at all.  What were some of your favorite books as kids?  I loved all of the books by Roald Dahl, as well as Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys and the Chronicles of Narnia.  By the by, did any of you know that there is a children's illustrated version of Pride and Prejudice out there? It's kind of neat to look at some of the pictures.  I never would have come up with some of the pictures they have in there!  I've actually recommended it to parents who are looking for something good for their children to read (i.e., something that is not related to Pokemon or Captain Underpants), and I've had several come back and tell me that their kids really liked it.  It kind of makes me feel good to introduce Jane Austen to a new generation of readers.

By the way, thank you for the kind words, Ashton.  It's been fun to visit the board and get to know all of you.  I hope I'll have the time to continue to do so in college!  I am going to a private liberal arts school and am planning to double major in foreign language and international business. I may try to squeeze an English major in there, though.  Gotta tie Jane Austen in there somehow - I've learned so much over the last couple of years and have so many good ideas for papers!  If I can't fit it in, however, does anyone know if Emma has been translated into Spanish?


Dear Laurie,

You certainly have made some excellent contributions to this board in the last two years. I hope you selected Berkeley, but think that unlikely as you expressed interest in small liberal arts schools instead. Wherever you attend, you will impress as very well prepared. My only regret is that your calculus teacher was so incompetent - and he was incompetent if he did not convey that calculus is easy and fun.

I suggest that you read the Juvenilia in sequence; that way, you can watch the young Jane Austen develop into the mature writer.


Dear Laurie,

My congratulations on your graduation!  I am especially proud of you because you are a Jane Austen fan.

My nephew graduated a few weeks ago.  He is an honor student and is going to college in the fall in computer science.  I asked him if, in his English classes (4 years), he had studied anything by Jane Austen.  He  said, and I sorrowfully quote, "Who?"  I was devastated.

Now you know why I was never terribly impressed with the school he attended.  I know too much about that particular school system, but that is another story.

My very best wishes to you in your continuing education!
Linda



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