The Voices of Men in Praise
Of Jane Austen
Messages Beginning c. January 2, 2002


9-11          

Dear Ashton,

I very much enjoyed your synopses of the two filmed versions of "Mansfield Park", and agree pretty much with everything you said.  I had not noticed that P. Rozema's production was so "man-hating", but I see it now. I know that the earlier version (4+hours) was lukewarm at times, but at least as you said, it was true to the book and I think Jane would have liked it much more than 1999.  I did not care for Rozema's Sir Thomas at all, nor son Tom.  Lady Bertram was only a styrofoam image, whereas the first one (Angela Pleasance) was a marvel of indolence!  What disturbed me about Rozema's Fanny was that she was nothing like the character created by Jane.  Jane's real Fanny was shy, retiring, in enormous awe of all her aunts and uncle.  Frances O'Connor played her as much more spirited and even saucy, and always writing, while the real Fanny read a lot and wrote voluminous letters, but had no aspirations as a novelist.  All in all, I much prefer the earlier version.  I always like Bernard Hepton's roles in Jane's novels on film; his Mr. Woodhouse was wonderful! He played Sir Thomas very closely to the character, I thought.  Altogether, let's let 1999 gather dust in the library and watch Sylvestra Le Touzel until something wonderful happens to this novel (Maybe Sue Birtwhistle?) and it is really re-created anew.  Will visit here often.


Dear Bree,

I am very pleased that you will visit here often. Perhaps you will invent a screen-name for us to use.

I can't imagine a better film producer than Sue Birtwhistle or a better screenwriter than her Andrew Davies. I once suggested the way that the recent production of Mansfield Park might have been saved. I wonder if you agree.


Dear Ashton,

Thank you for your reply and the link to your comments on straightening out MP 1999.  I watched it twice and then saw BBC again just to compare and contrast.  I certainly agree with your opinion about Frances O'Connor - there was nothing of the "real" Fanny Price (i.e. the one in my mind) in her performance.  I thought Edmund was OK and Henry Crawford was suitably smarmy and overconfident, but Miss Crawford!  Please!  She was YEARS older than the rest of the bunch and although attractive, couldn't compare to Jackie Smith-Wood.  I couldn't think of anyone who could replace the other characters except those from the BBC.  Actually, both the Mr. Rushworths were pretty darn good in a small role, weren't they?  I felt sorry for both of them!  I couldn't believe, however, that such a ridiculous adultery scene would have taken place between Maria and Henry, even in real life!!!  Actually, this Rozema thing is looking worse and worse the more I think of it!  Also, do you think Fanny's home in Portsmouth would be quite the sty that was represented in MP '99?  Anyway, the scenery of Portsmouth and Northampton was beautiful in its way.  Perhaps the next production should be a collaboration between Sue Birtwhistle and Emma Thompson?  Could we find a role somewhere for Emma?  Maybe Mrs. Grant at the parsonage ... thanks for your insightful comments.  I am an Austen addict - should we have a support group?


Dear Bree,

We may be too far gone for a support group to be of much use. The reason that I began a web site is that family and co-workers had begun to stare at me because of my addiction. My brother and I share a sports addiction - a co-dependency - and he was especially appalled. The web site has been very useful - has eliminated the strain on my brother. Incidentally, this may be an old affliction of humanity, here is what E. M. Forster said about that.

I think Frances O'Conner an excellent actress and very beautiful, but wrong for the part of Fanny Price. However, she was perfectly right for the role as Rozema envisioned it. That is because Rozema does not share our addiction - is not interested in the slightest in what Jane Austen's intent might have been. This revisionist makes Fanny Price another Elizabeth Bennet. The irony is that Jane Austen invented Elizabeth; so, if our Lady had intended another such character, she would have done a better job than Rozema could ever have imagined.

As I said before, the actress that Rozema cast as Julia Bertram, Justine Waddell, would have been perfect as Fanny Price - as Jane Austen's Fanny Price. If you get a chance, catch Waddell in the title role of a recent filmed version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. After I saw her in that, I have wanted to "Bow down to her on Sunday / Salute her when her birthday comes". This is a very powerful and underrated young actress. (Incidentally, I have a Thomas-Hardy addiction as well.)

Emma Thompson would make a fine Aunt Norris. Few people notice that Jane Austen made Aunt Norris a handsome woman. This is consistent with the beauty of her sisters and nieces. There is one passage in the novel that makes clear that the nieces, the Bertram sisters, were even more beautiful than Mary Crawford. A clear relationship that emerges from the novel is that Aunt Norris was a very dominant oldest sister while the two younger were passive, even lethargic. Some squalor in the Portsmouth home is to be expected, there was only a single servant and an indifferent wife. Fanny was appalled by this lack of order after being raised at Mansfield Park.

Like yourself, I noticed Jackie Smith-Wood and liked her very, very much. I am far less critical than you of Embeth Daviditz (Mary Crawford) - far less. I also think that Anna Massey's interpretation of Aunt Norris, in that older filmed version, was perfect and I can overlook the fact that she was not handsome enough for the role. Without beauty, it is difficult to understand how Aunt Norris could have had as much influence and control. ("How that Jane Austen could write!") Did you notice that Rozema marginalized the role of Aunt Norris? Why, do you think, she did that?

Finally, I must confess to you that I have been only slightly less unkind to Emma Thompson than to Patricia Rozema. It is sad to say, but there it is.


Dear Ashton,

Oh Ashton - after my last message, I read your synopsis of the [filmed version of] Sense and Sensibility, and was mortified to discover you had such a low opinion of same.  However, although I have been a devotee of JA for over 40 years, I do not have the criteria and scope in critiquing film making which you have, which allows me to enjoy the films more for missing the technical flaws!  I hope you will agree though, that a lot of things in S & S worked - such as the scenes between Elinor and Lucy, the development of the character of the youngest sister, and Gemma Jones' performance.  It's funny how Pride and Prejudice keeps getting better in successive productions, while others deteriorate.  I am particularly depressed because I just saw the latest (1998) BBC filming of Vanity Fair, and it SUCKED.  The one done by the BBC in the late 60's, starring Susan Hampshire, was marveous; there was another one in 1993 or 1994 which was also captivating, but this one - even more of a letdown than MP'99.

Well, to return to MP, I share most of your views, except Frances O'Connor is not one of my favorites.  I agree that Mrs. Norris was turned into a rather uninteresting busybody (where she is supposed to be a fascinating one) and Lady Bertram was a shadow.  Imagine that Rozema making her an opium addict!  I can only advocate either the ducking stool or public flogging!  I did not imagine Mrs. Norris as a handsome woman, and Anna Massey did her up so well, one did not care, but reading over the beginning of the novel, it is evident that the 3 Ward sisters were all good looking, and it was only bad luck and timing which prevented Mrs. N. and poor Frances Price from marrying as well as the indolent Maria Ward.  (By the way, why do all the Brits pronounce the name "Maria" as though they were calling the wind.......?)  sorry.  Even though the original MP was perhaps a bit vanilla flavored at times, I found it highly satisfying in the care and detail with which the characters were developed according to JA's original concept.  I will try to catch J. Waddell in other things - she was very understated in this version as Julia.  Isn't Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram) the very same Harriet Forster who lured Lydia Bennett to Brighton? Well, we could cast Emma Thompson as Aunt Norris, but don't you think she is a little too attractive? I guess you are with me in that Emma can do about anything as far as acting goes!  I don't think you could have a better Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram than Bernard and Angela.  They were perfect!

By the way, is your "sports addiction" by any chance with the NBA? Just wondering ... I'm trapped in Laker-land and "I can't get out, I can't get out!"


Dear Bree,

I agree with many of the positive things you say about that film and about Emma Thompson. Actually, if you sift through the mud slinging in my review you will find I interjected many of those same statements. I especially singled out Kate Winslet for praise for her interpretation and development of Marianne. I did not mention the Lucy-Elinior interactions but that was an oversight - they are every bit as excellent as you suggest. By the way, the actress who played Lucy (what is her name?) played Viola in a recent filmed version of Twelfth Night and was superb once again.

The only thing in your posting that I strongly disagree with is your statement, "... I do not have the criteria and scope in critiquing film making which you have ..." Where did you get such a crazy idea! Don't you blame me for that! Well, maybe I am to blame; I guess I sound confident and that sort of tone might inspire more credibility than is deserved.

I agree about that production of Vanity Fair. That was a shame.

I am often positive about Emma Thompson, but I am never - almost never positive about her ex. Branagh is my favorite target for ridicule. Although he was good in a recent made-for-TV film in which he played an SS functionary sent to shove "the final solution" down the collective throat of a committee of German generals and officials. It amuses me that he was good there but a colossal flop as Hamlet.

I have had the opposite experience in one regard. I once argued with a Brit when I insisted that Maria Edgeworth's first name should be pronounced "Mariah". She explained to me that I was an ignorant American. I won the argument when I asked her to notice how her countrymen pronounced Maria Lucas's name in P&P-95. She was pissed.

Please, please - I beg you - catch Waddell in something else. I think that production of Tess surpasses - gulp! - the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice. You must think me crazed, or a Laker fan, or something. And - this is way hard to say - Waddell's interpretation of Tess may even surpass Ehle's interpretation of Elizabeth Bennet. (I had better sign off before you call the police on me.)


Dear Ashton,

I did think you were some kind of film critic or had experience in that area, because when I go back and see the films I see a lot I missed before.  Last night (my last vacation day before going back to "reality") I watched S&S again, and really got a laugh when I thought of you saying Hugh Grant should "get the egg out of his shoe".  He did walk that way.  I also noticed the "open-mouthed stares" you mention in your synopsis.  However, as is unfortunately often the case in videos sold for private consumption, several scenes are missing, including the one you mention in which Elinor confronts Willoughby, and also the one of the Dashwoods leaving the Palmers' home to return to Barton.  They were just suddenly back in the cottage - makes you think of Ozma's magic belt.  [if this reference is before your time, don't worry.]

I so agree with your opinion of what happened to Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings.  They were turned from rather well-meaning, bumbling but kind neighbors into caricatures.  As well, we know of course that Sir John's entire family was killed off!  Didn't he have a sort of remote wife, Lady Middleton, and a noisy brood of kids?  What did they do to deserve that?  I enjoyed Charlotte Palmer (Imelda Staunton also played Mrs. Micawber in David Copperfield - you probably caught it?)  Even Mr. Palmer was passable.  I watched an earlier BBC version of S&S which in SOME ways was more authentic.

You obviously knew what I meant about the name "Mariah".  For some reason, all British novels of the period persist in using the "call the wind" pronunciation, whereas my links with the Hispanic culture cause me to think in terms of "I just met a girl named ...".  But I guess they need a little variety.  All English women in the Regency age were named:  Elizabeth, Anne, Jane, Mariah, Katherine, Mary or Fanny, with very few exceptions.  Nowadays things have gone in quite the opposite direction, with Gemma's, Nicola's, Philippa's, Tessa's and so on.

I guess I will have to catch Tess and Justine Waddell, but am still doubtful there could be a superior performance to Jennifer Ehle in P&P - maybe just superbly different? Do you think anyone will ever dare to make "Lady Susan"?  Or has anyone?  Also, what did you think of Northanger Abbey?  I felt it had some good points regarding background, scenery, and the fantastic "bathing" scenes at Bath, where people sloshed around fully dressed in the water? Surreal!  But I did not care for the heroine - a little weird ...


Dear Bree,

If you view Waddell in Tess, you will come back here and thank me profusely and you will wonder at the way that Rozema wasted her talents in Mansfield Park. That is a promise.

In your other 1/8/02 posting, you said, "Don't get me started on the "Emmas"!!!!" Since this was a four exclamation-mark statement, I became curious (anything with three or fewer exclamations does not take my notice). I think I have a way of tricking you into getting started on the "Emmas". I have put together a ballot for an All-Emma, All-Star team. On that I show the names of the actors in all the important roles from four different filmed versions. The idea is to vote for the best interpretation in each particular role. I thought it too silly to actually post; but, if it might rile you up, I may reconsider. My plan is to post election results after 1,000 ballots or on January 1, 2010, whichever comes first. (Let me see - in 2010, I will be - Mm-mm, maybe that is my age in dog-years? No. Well, if I subtract that worthless decade between puberty and my first kiss - so, carry the two ... yes that makes more sense, I should still be around.)

I notice that you thought a reference to Ozma might be before my time - sniff - I love you, man! Actually, Frank L. Baum was behind me in school. Nice kid, I'm glad his books did so well.

Here is a link to the good news on a filmed version of Northanger Abbey and here is the antidote. Bummer! (Where did you get that photo?)


Dear Voices,

A question for Cindy - did you include the subject of women's education in your thesis? If so, I would love to hear what you have to say on that subject.  I have recently started paying attention to references about their schooling as in where they went and what the curriculum was.

During my recent illness, I managed to read Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story.  I found a passage that gave me goose bumps that I wish to share with you all.  The story begins with the father of the heroine on his deathbed.  He is pondering whom to appoint as her guardian and about her education.  Here is what he is thinking:

"Something more essential," said he to himself, "must be considered - something to prepare her for an hour like this I now experience - can I then leave her to the charge of those who themselves never remember such an hour will come? - Dorriforth is the only person I know, who, uniting every moral virtue to those of religion, and native honour to pious faith will protect without controlling, instruct without tyrannizing, comfort without flattering, and perhaps in time make good by choice rather than by constraint, the dear object of his dying friend's sole care."

Would that all children were taught by such guidelines!

As for the book itself, I enjoyed it very much. I am beginning to worry about myself, because I find that I prefer these older books to the modern. Inchbald was quite an interesting character as well as writer. According to her Chronology in the book she translated Lover's Vows from the French in 1798. It had been in existence awhile when JA [mentioned it in] Mansfield Park.

At the time she wrote this book it was in vogue to write stories about women's proper education.  That is the moral she ended this story with.  But she never gives any further details than what I quoted above, as to what constitutes "a proper education"? the only reason I can guess is because there was so many other writings on that subject.  In the story itself she contrasts the two heroines - Mother and daughter - with the Mother as spoiled with too much money and allowed to follow her own inclinations.  The daughter is brought up with few creature comforts, completely obedient, and ends up "happily ever after".  Inchbald portrays their circumstances but not their formal education.

There is in Inchbald's story this quote that is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice:

"He endeavoured to raise her, she persisted to kneel - and here the trouble, the affright, the terror she endured, discovered to her for the first time her own sentiments - which, till that moment, she had doubted - and she continued, ..."

As Lizzie says, "Till this moment I never knew myself."

She did say the spoiled child went "to a Protestant boarding school, from whence she was sent with merely such sentiments of religion, as young ladies of fashion mostly imbibe."  In Jane Austen's works there are references to education that I wish to collect.  It should prove interesting.  That is why I am interested in what Cindy might have found.
Linda


Dear Linda,

Well, you may write "New Orleans", but I bet you say "N'Orle'ns". Am I right?

Did Inchbald really translate Lover's Vows from the French? Somehow, I thought it was from the German.

It seems that everybody was writing about education in those days - novelists as well as philosophers. A trend that is beginning to become clear to me is the effect of the "Enlightenment" and the idea of an "Age of Reason" that dominated the eighteenth century. My interpretation is that people had come to think that reason - rational thought - was the be all and end all. They actually thought that all the ills of society would be cured if folks would just become more rational. And how might that happen? - That would happen if we all were properly educated. It seems kind of naive nowadays doesn't it? Anyway, this may explain why all the radicals, like Wollstonecraft et. al., wrote so much about education - the education of women for example.

Claire Tomalin identifies Inchbald as "a widow in her early forties, the actress, playwright and novelist ..." when she was being courted by William Godwin and just before Mary Wollstonecraft decided that Godwin must marry her instead. Tomalin describes Inchbald in this way: "... she is supposed to have looked like a perfect blend between a duchess and a milkmaid, and she had a sharp tongue and a ready wit. ..." Somehow an Amelia Alderson figured in this mix; she wrote a friend,

"... Mrs. Inchbald says, the report of the world is that Mr Holcroft is in love with her, she with Mr Godwin, Mr Godwin with me, and I am in love with Mr Holcroft! A pretty story indeed! This report Mr Godwin brings to me, and he says Mrs I. always tells him that when she praises him I praise Holcroft. This is not fair in Mrs I. She appears to be jealous of G's attention to me, so she makes him believe I prefer H. to him. She often says to me, 'Now you are come, Mr Godwin does not come near me.' Is this not very womanish?"

I will let you answer her question. Incidentally, Alderson was in her twenties and half the age of the others in this drama. I have seen her portrait and think her very good-looking. (The connection comes from the fact that Alderson was the daughter of a Dissenting minister.)

In any case, the woman they did not account for was Mary Wollstonecraft, who shortly thereafter became pregnant by Godwin and hauled him off to the alter. Tomalin describes some unpleasant events after the marriage, "... Mrs Inchbald was a serious source of trouble: Mary [Wollstonecraft] called her 'Mrs Perfection', and made frequent counter-references to the pleasant times she spent with Opie while Godwin was dancing attention on [Inchbald]." (Incidentally, here is Opie's portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft. - Whoa!) Inchbald dropped her acquaintance after the Godwins' marriage. For some insight into that, see this letter written by Anna Barbauld. That may give you some idea of the way people reacted to the marriage; remember, until that moment, Wollstonecraft had claimed that she had married her daughter's father while in France.

So, these were liberated women, were they.


Dear Ash,

I was referring to my Oxford World's Classics edition of Inchbald's A Simple Story where I found the Chronology and I quote:

Your question made me do my homework.  It hit me that "Kotzebue" definitely sounded German and not French.  That thought led me to Henry Churchyard's "Jane Austen Information Page" and under the "Mansfield Park" heading called "E-texts of Lovers' Vows by Kotzebue, translated by Inchbald" - this link to a scholarly-edited text (with ponderous academic introduction)

On that page is a link to Jonathan Wordworth's Introduction and a link to Elizabeth Inchbald's Preface and Remarks. Wordworth compares the characters in Mansfield Park to those in Lovers' Vows, and the similarities need looking into for a better understanding of Mansfield Park.

Inchbald said in her Preface:

"Wholly unacquainted with the German language, a literal translation of the "Child of Love" was given to me by the manager of Covent-Garden Theatre, to be fitted, as my opinion should direct, for his stage. This translation, tedious and vapid, as most literal translations are, had the peculiar advantage of having been put into our language by a German; of course, it came to me in broken English."

So, judging from the above, I am not too sure just exactly how she did it. If I take her word as written in her Preface, she wrote from a literal translation made by a German into English.  I don't know where the French came from.

I do agree that the "Enlightenment" and "Age of Reason" bear looking into, especially in view of those "liberated women".  I have heard of those terms, but never studied them.  Extremely interesting.

I was not up to posting when I read your remarks on Christmas Day about Newton and Cowper.  I am in your debt for those.  I am ashamed to say that I have sung Amazing Grace all my life and did not know the story behind it.  Are you sure that you are not an encrypted evangelist?

Thank you for the very moving post of Dec. 7th. I can't help but wonder if your last sentence, "It was a failure in our leadership", is still happening today.  We can only hope that things are better now.

Now my secret is out.  I do say "N'Orle'ns"!
Linda



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