Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Sense-and-Sensibility-2008 Elinor MarianneThis 2008 adaptation of Jane Austen’s first published novel stands out as the best so far, not because it is utterly faithful to the novel, although it is the most faithful of all adaptations over the last twenty-five years, but because it really penetrates the emotional heart of the novel.

This version begins by revealing the two actions that fuel the story.  The first is only alluded to in the novel: the seduction of Eliza Williams by John Willoughby (Dominic Cooper).  It is shown in close-ups lit with the bright red of a fireplace, so it isn’t possible to truly identify either the seducer or seduced.  The second action is the true beginning of the novel: the death of Mr. Henry Dashwood.  On his deathbed, surrounded by his second wife, Mrs. Dashwood (Janet McTeer), and her daughters, Elinor (Hattie Morahan), Marianne (Charity Wakefield), and Margaret (Lucy Boynton), he entreats his son John (Mark Gatiss), from his first marriage, to make sure they are adequately taken care of, given that the English system of inheritance will exclude them from all but a paltry yearly stipend.

John inherits Norland Park and his wife, Fanny (Claire Skinner), immediately wants to move in and convinces him that his promise to his father certainly wouldn’t any kind of financial security.  When the Dashwoods arrive, Marianne is quite upset.  She feels the mansion should be rightfully theirs, but Elinor, the more sensible of the two reminds her that the house is not legally theirs.  Fanny is unbearable.  They decide to look for a new place to live, but Mrs. Dashwood simply has no idea of how little money they have.  Elinor suggests that they will only be able to afford a cottage.

Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens), the oldest son in their moneyed family, comes to visit and he and Elinor are deeply attracted to one another.  Just the opposite of Fanny, he is nice to Margaret and makes friends with Marianne.  Fanny, seeing the attachment between Elinor and Edward, counsels Mrs. Dashwood that Edward is destined to marry a very wealthy, well-placed society woman.  Shortly after that, Mrs. Dashwood receives an invitation from her cousin, Sir John Middleton (Mark Williams), to let a cottage on his estate at Barton Park in Devonshire and she immediately accepts.

Sense-and-Sensibility-2008 CharityThe family relocates to a beautiful cottage by the seaside, surrounded by rolling hills and the rough rocky cliffs of the shoreline.  Sir John and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett), immediately set about trying to find husbands for them.  They introduce Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), a wealthy former military man of thirty-five.  He falls in love with Marianne, but she thinks he is too old and lacks passion.  In an attempt to evade him, she takes a fall in the hills and is rescued by Willoughby, who is visiting his aunt at nearby Allenham.  Thinking him very romantic, Marianne falls in love with him, not realizing that he has already seduced Eliza Williams.  Brandon, confronts Willoughby, but the latter proclaims that his intentions toward Marianne are honorable. 

Mrs. Jennings’ nieces, Lucy (Anna Madeley) and Anne Steele (Daisy Haggard), come to visit and Lucy confides in Elinor that she has had a private four-year engagement to Edward.  It comes as a shock, but Lucy swears Elinor to secrecy.  Every time they meet thereafter, Lucy reminds Elinor that’s Edward is her lover.

As the whole group prepares to go on a picnic to Brandon’s estate, Delaford, but receives an urgent letter that causes him to cancel.  He rides off leaving the party confuses, but Willoughby takes advantage of the situation to take Marianne to show her Allenham, while his aunt is away.  Since he has taken a lock of her hair and seems to be completely in love with Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor assume that they are privately engaged, but when it looks like Willoughby will make a formal proposal, he suddenly leaves for London at his aunt’s bidding.

Later, Mrs. Jennings decides to visit her home in London and takes the girls with her.  Expecting to see Willoughby, Marianne writes to him every day, but hears nothing.  Then, at an Assembly, she confronts him and he coldly turns his back on her.  Nearly fainting, she is rescued by Brandon.  He returns all of her letters to her, apologizing for giving the false impression that he may have cared for her.  Marianne is distraught.  Mrs. Jennings then discovers that Willoughby is engaged to a young woman of great fortune and Brandon reveals to Elinor that Willoughby seduced his young ward, fifteen year old Eliza Williams and left her with child.

Sense-and-Sensibility-2008 Elinor WeepingThe group goes to a gathering held by Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Ferrars (Jean Marsh), where Lucy Steele hopes to gain the good will of her future mother-in-law, but when Anne accidentally reveals the engagement, Mrs. Ferrars tells Edward that unless he breaks the engagement, she will cut him off from his fortune.  A man of honor, Edward sticks to his promise to Lucy.

Brandon escorts the family back to Devonshire, stopping at Delaford along the way.  Seized by her grief at losing Willoughby, Marianne gets lost in the rain and is found by Brandon.  She is put to bed, but develops a life-threatening fever.  Elinor waits at her bedside while Brandon brings their mother, but Marianne’s fever breaks and she recovers.  Realizing that Brandon loves her and seeing how he has cared for her, Marianne switches her affections to him and becomes engaged.

When Edward returns, everyone assumes that he is married to Lucy, but he reveals that Lucy has also switched her affections to his brother and has married him, leaving Edward free to marry Elinor.  Hearing this news, Elinor tries to cope with her feelings as Edward proposes.  A happy ending is thus concluded, with Marianne happy as the mistress of Delaford while Elinor marries poor Edward in his country parsonage, happier than she would have ever believed.

Sense and Sensibility Lucy BoyntonFans of the book will note that several changes have been made, but nothing truly drastic.  Many other versions of the story have managed to lose characters, such as little sister Margaret, who plays a great part in this version, and Anne Steele, who also plays a big part.  The script is written by Andrew Davies who did such a masterful job with the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which is largely regarded as the best version of that masterpiece.  Even with the few changes that Davies has made, the script remains more faithful to the novel than any other version.  The characters of Elinor and Marianne are beautifully written and take their part at the heart of the story.  Marianne’s passion is appropriately tempered with Elinor’s restraint.

Casting is frequently the cause of either the success or failure of a novel adaptation and that is certainly the case here.  Hatty Morahan’s Elinor is staid, but always, beneath the surface, you see her emotions whirling.  This care to show us how much Elinor feels, while outwardly appearing in control, is simply a beautiful job of acting.  Charity Wakefield’s beauty certainly compliments her passionate view of life and the acting is superb.  These two bring us full circle as Marianne learns some of the restraint of her sister, while Elinor finally opens up her heart and allows us to see deeply inside.  The chemistry of these two as sisters is truly great.  Janet McTeer is marvelous as Mrs. Dashwood and the charming restraint of Lucy Boynton as Margaret is simply delightful.

All the technical aspects are very well done, the sets beautiful and especially landscape of Devonshire is a delight to the eye.  One great little detail is Margaret’s collection of sea shells which she strings together to make a visual motif that the camera repeatedly comes back to.  The beauty of the sea side is lovingly captured.

Sequenced into a three episode series, each episode lasting one hour, it comes out to three hours compared to the five hours of Pride and Prejudice, but compared other movie versions, constrained to a two-hour format, this covers the scope of the book very well indeed.  If watching the DVD, you may as well skip the self-congratulatory “Making of” featurette and go immediately to Disk 2, which has a movie length BBC production called “Miss Austen Regrets.”  This is a fictional biography of Jane Austen and is fairly well done.

I highly recommend this version of Sense and Sensibility and it would make a great addition to any Janite collection.

A

 Across_the_Universe_3lgAcross the Universe

Conceived, produced and directed by the eclectic Julie Taymor, this film is a romantic musical that incorporates parts of 34 songs composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the three of them plus Ringo Starr (“Flying”).  Most of the songs are sung on-screen by the characters, though there are some instrumentals.  This places the film in the category of old-style musicals where people seem to burst into song as a part of the story.  To everyone’s credit, it actually seems to work very well indeed.


1-adjustment-bureau-copyThe Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is a far-fetched, but very engaging film.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Brooklyn politician who meets a fascinating woman, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on the night that he has just lost the Senate election.  When she runs away, he is motivated to give a galvanizing concession speech that will reenergize his career.


AdventurelandAdventureland

Adventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival.  The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing.  Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.


All is Lost RedfordAll is Lost

A man sleeps peacefully aboard his small yacht when it suddenly bangs into some sea debris, tearing a hole in the side.  This begins a great survival story where one problems piles upon another as he is tossed across the Indian sea toward shipping lanes and possible rescue.  But he must first face storms, sharks, and other menaces.  And even when he reaches the shipping lanes, will anyone see him?


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Amadeus

A terrible way to triumph over God.  These are the words of 18th Century Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) referring to his murder of the brilliant, meteoric Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ((Tom Hulce). He tells the story to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) who has come to hear his confession at the insane asylum to which Salieri has been confined following a suicide attempt.


 american-hustle-posters-sonyAmerican Hustle

Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting operation, this 2013 film was written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer and directed by Russell of The Fighter and  Silver Linings Playbook fame.  Bringing along Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, he has created a brilliant sting comedy that takes place at the height of disco mania, 1978.


Art of Getting By3The Art of Getting By

In The Art of Getting By (2011), George (Freddie Highmore), a high school senior living in New York City, falls into a fatalistic funk.  Although he is a gifted artist, he realizes that he’s going to die some day and asks himself: What is the point of trying?  Seeing no point, he gives up working on his school assignments, skips class and tests and just skates by as a loner.  Facing this failure, he is placed on academic probation.


Austenland PictureAustenland

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland

 

Becoming Jane

Becoming JaneOur general fascination with all things Jane Austen continues with this 2007 fictional glimpse into one short period of her life: that time when she was attracted to Tom Lefroy and would have formed an engagement if not for the objections of his family. I say fictional because the filmmakers have taken considerable license with what we understand as historical fact.  This is something movies do all of the time, but with Jane Austen it is best to take special care because her fans are quite dedicated.

It is a Sunday morning in 1795 in Hampshire, England. At the cottage of the Reverend George Austen (James Cromwell), youngest daughter Jane (Anne Hathaway), toils away at her writing while her sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) and the others sleep.  When the servants get to work, Jane begins to play her piano loudly to wake everyone up.  Cassandra has just become engaged to Robert Fowle (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) who must travel to the West Indies to earn his pulpit.  The local grand dame, Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) is resolved that her nephew, Mr Wisley (Laurence Fox) will marry Jane, despite her poverty, but Jane is much less certain.  She desires to marry for love, not money, as is the custom.

Meanwhile, in London, young law student Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) drinks and carouses his way into the bad graces of his uncle, the Lord Chief Judge of the high court (Ian Richardson). Although he comes from a poor Irish family, his uncle is without heirs and Tom depends on the possible inheritance as the only way his family can survive.  After a night of drinking, Tom arrives late to court and his uncle berates him for his lack of decorum.  As punishment, and as a possible tonic for his Tom’s decadent lifestyle, his uncle sends him to the country to stay with relatives.

Arriving bored and angry, his friend Henry Austen (Joe Anderson) invites him to attend a tea to celebrate Cassandra and Robert’s engagement. Jane reads a lengthy, comedic tribute to the happy couple, but later overhears Tom disparaging her writing. In a pique of anger, she burns her marriage tribute and questions her other writing.  Henry, one of Jane’s older brothers who has just graduated from Cambridge, has also brought a priggish friend, John Warren (Leo Bill) to the party and he becomes smitten with Jane, although she finds his bumbling manner offensive.  Tom’s relations include his cousin, young Lucy Lefroy (Jessica Ashworth) who has a crush on Tom and hopes to make a match with him.  A member of the Austen party is Jane’s cousin, Eliza, the Comtesse de Feullide, who had been married to a French count, beheaded during the Revolution.  She takes a shine to Henry and hopes that her wealth will provide a means for him to become an officer in the English Navy.

Walking in the woods, Jane encounters Tom and they exchange uncivil words, but despite his criticism of her writing, Tom sees her intelligence and wit and is attracted to her. During an accidental meeting in the Lefroy library, he gives her a copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones so that she can experience a more visceral form of writing.  When they discuss the morality of it, he remarks that good people can come to a bad end, but Jane has already grasped the prime purpose of what a good novel should be.  “A novel should reveal the true source of our actions,” she tells him.  This is the heart of good fiction: action must be organic.

Mr. Wisley finally asks to Jane to marry him, but she cannot in good conscience say yes to him. She doesn’t love him, although she is beginning to respect him.  Her mother (Julie Walters) is very distressed by this refusal, but her father takes it more in stride.  Even so, he is realistic about the world.  “Nothing destroys spirit like poverty,” he tells Jane.  But Jane wants to marry for love and gradually realizes that she loves Tom.  At a ball, Lady Gresham confronts Jane, telling her explicitly that her nephew’s offer of marriage is the best that Jane can ever expect in her life and that she has a duty to her impoverished family to accept.  Outside, by the fountain, she and Tom profess their love to each other and pledge that they will try to find a way to make it work.

On the way to visit Jane’s older brother, Edward, Tom invites Jane, Eliza, and Henry to stay with his uncle in London, hoping that Jane will make a good impression, but at dinner, Jane contradicts the Lord Justice on the nature of irony and falls into disfavor. Unable to sleep, Jane begins drafting a new story, First Impressions, which turned out to be the first draft of Pride and Prejudice.  Before Tom can tell his uncle that he wants to marry Jane, the Lord Justice receives a letter informing him that Jane is a penniless husband-hunter.  He turns his back on them and Tom has only one option if he wants to inherit his fortune: he must abandon Jane.

Directed by Julian Jarrold, the movie was filmed almost exclusively in Ireland, with assistance from the Irish Film Board, mostly because Hampshire had become too clean and modernized. It is a beautiful film, no doubt.  The cinematography by Eigil Bryld brings the English countryside to life, even if it was filmed in Ireland.  Trust me, you won’t notice the difference.

The script, drafted by Sarah Williams and finalized by Kevin Hood, was based on a the book, Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence, uses some historical facts, but mashes everything up to create a good romantic film.  The best of it provides terrific glimpses into influences on Austen’s writing, such as Lady Gresham’s remark that there is “a lovely-ish wood” nearby that Jane and Mr. Wisley could walk in or Wisley’s fragmentary remark that “it is a truth universally acknowledged.”  Certainly Lady Gresham bears a striking resemblance to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and there is evidence that she used her own mother and father as models for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.  Jane’s relationship with Cassandra is compared to Lizzie and Jane, but they could also be Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility.  The bumbling John Warren is very close indeed to Mr. Collins.  All of this is extremely well done, if a trifle obvious in places.  It is a witty and emotional script, very well written.  However, if readers are seriously interested in Jane Austen’s life, I would recommend the biography Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes.  This is an excellent book and is much more factual than the movie.

The acting is first rate, especially the supporting cast. James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Jane’s parents are terrific, as are Maggie Smith, Ian Richardson, and Anna Maxwell Martin.  Helen McCrory is remarkable as Mrs Radcliffe, the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho, whom Jane meets on her stopover in London.

James McAvoy brings a lot of soul to Tom Lefroy, elevating him far beyond the carousing rascal he starts out as, into a man who must carry his own pain with him throughout his life.

Jane Austen Portrait

But the movie is centered around Jane Austen and Anne Hathaway’s performance is critical to the movie’s success. I have read that many English critics have found fault with her English accent and others are affronted by the fact that she is American and not English.  These things did not bother me.  And I found her performance to be very strong and very affecting.  She amused me and moved me and must be accorded as giving a very good performance.  My only issue is personal.  I have a certain view on Jane Austen that has been fostered by my own reading, by my study of her biography, and by the one picture that seems to capture her essence.  I think her weight was an essential part of her character, that her own roundness helped to reveal who she was.  Hathaway is thin, she looks harshly angular and skinny and despite her truly remarkable performance I simply could not accept her as Jane Austen.  Perhaps this is a failing on my part, but I would have much preferred to someone a little closer to Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

anne-hathaway-becoming-jane-GC

I was also a little irked by the historical inaccuracies. For one thing, Jane Austen was incredibly well-read and was certainly familiar with Fielding’s Tom Jones as a classic of the times.  I also found it troublesome that she would consider eloping with Tom Lefroy.  Austen was a girl of her times and would not pull a Lydia Bennet.  Their daft brother, George, was secreted away and the family never saw him, yet here he is included as if they saw him every week.

These are, of course, minor objections in a movie that largely succeeds and makes a worthy addition to film canon of Jane Austen. Everyone who is deeply into Austen should see the film and make up their own minds.  For my part, I liked it in spite of myself.  I was moved by both Jane and Cassandra and I loved their relationship.  It is probably quite close to their real relationship and is very moving.  Overall, I found the movie to very affecting and I must recommend it.

Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen trioThe general fascination with Jane Austen is continued in this 2008 four-part British television film, originally aired by ITV and released in the United States as a three hour film.  Written by Guy Andrews and directed by Dan Zeff, it has the feel of very bad fan fiction cranked out by professionals.  Barely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time, three hours is far too much for this slim fantasy about a girl who switches places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

This review contains information about the ending of the movie, so beware.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) is a modern Jane Austen stuck in an unromantic relationship with a boozy, uncouth guy, Michael (Daniel Percival) and living in a flat in Hammersmith with a girlfriend, Pirhana (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). All she really wants is to be left alone so she can immerse herself in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When she investigates a noise in her bathroom, she discovers none other than Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) who has somehow found a portal in the upstairs of the fictional Bennet cottage and gone to see where it leads, which is 21st Century film reality.  Lizzy is not freaked out at all by joining the 21st Century and invites Amanda to visit the fictional Bennet world.  Once there, Lizzy locks the door, sealing Amanda in the book.  I still cannot process this remarkable change in Elizabeth Bennet.  Such a thing goes completely against the character created by Jane Austen.  When the Bennets discover Amanda, they seem to have no trouble with her arrival and blithely accept that their daughter is in Hammersmith and Amanda is come to visit, wearing a leather jacket.  Magic.  No big deal.

Amanda proceeds to wreak havoc on her favorite novel. Inexplicably, Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) fall in love with Amanda instead of Jane Bennet (Morven Christie).  She struggles to set things right, but things keep getting worse and worse.  And the characters and plot of the book change completely at the writer’s whim.  There is no effort at all to show natural deviations from the novel or the nature of the characters, but the plot is twisted completely so that the writer can effect the action he wants.

In this upside down fantasy world, Jane marries Mr. Collins (Guy Henry), Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) runs off to Africa to become a missionary, Elizabeth settles into her new life without a second thought as to her family, Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) is a Lesbian, Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley) is actually a good guy, and ultimately Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) falls in love with Amanda. When the movie ends, Lizzy and Amanda permanently change places so that Amanda can marry Mr. Darcy and Lizzy can continue her new life in reality.

As a Brit might say: Complete rubbish.  Top to bottom.

Lost in this hash are a couple of pretty good performances, most notably by Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet.

Although the premise is not as bad as it seems, the movie really loses its focus by altering Elizabeth’s character so dramatically. Even as unbelievable as the premise of opening a portal from a fictional book to reality, it still has more believability than seen such a well-known and loved character act in total contradiction to what is known of her.  A better idea would simply have been to drop a modern character into the book as Lizzy Bennet, rather than having them exchange places.  Although that idea might work, it would still require strict adherence to what is already known of the characters, a tenet that Guy Andrews seems to have abandoned anyway.

The key to writing good fantasy is this: reality may be altered as long as the alteration is consistent within itself.  With all of the inconsistencies to Pride and Prejudice present in this movie, one may as well simply attempt to rewrite the novel as one chooses.

On the other hand, if you have no reverence at all for Austen or the novel, you’d may as well lose three hours on a kinky British comedy with no meaning or heart. Enjoy.

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen

Sanditon and Other StoriesThis is collection of Jane Austen’s “unpublished” work is required reading for diehard Jane Austen fans, Janeites, casual fans, English literature students, and anyone who is interested in the process by which one learns to write.

The title story, “Sanditon”, is actually Jane Austen’s final novel, which she was unable to finish. A funny, intriguing story of a little seaside resort, its greatest asset in its unfinished state is the comedy.  I’ve always had the sense that toward the end of her life she was returning to the twisted comedic roots of her juvenilia and this would serve to confirm that.  Unfortunately, it is probably only about one-third of a novel.

Another very sadly unfinished story is “The Watsons.”  I liked this best of everything included in this book.  It tells the story of a girl, Emma Watson, who was raised by her Aunt and Uncle.  When her Uncle dies, her Aunt remarries and moves off to Ireland, sending Emma back to her impoverished family without a cent.  Although Emma has been raised to be very genteel, she really adapts fairly well to returning to poverty, mostly because she has a very sunny disposition.  Her family, however, are a little weird.  Although her oldest sister is fairly well-grounded, the other two sisters (only one of which we meet) are full of foibles.  Pushed into acquaintance with their neighbors, she finds herself sought after by the local lothario and the local nobility, all the while finding herself more interested in the 30 year old parson.

The story is very funny and I laughed out loud a number of times while reading it. When it stopped, only about one-third of the way through, I was severely disappointed.  This is one that got away.  Jane should have finished it.

People hear a lot about Austen’s complete letter novel, Lady Susan, being as the main character is such a bitch. It’s all true.  Lady Susan is an unusual character for Austen to feature front and center, for she is conniving, heartless, and unfaithful.  The only charm she actually possesses is her extreme beauty.  And although in the end, her daughter is rescued from her and Susan received her due, she turns it all with a smile and looks for her next misadventure.

There’s not a lot of great writing in the “Juvenilia,” but the History of England is very funny and shows much of the wit she was to develop later in making Northanger Abbey such a hilarious novel and in endowing so many of her comic characters in the more popular novels.

To avoid disappointment, casual readers might want to read Lady Susan and skip” Sanditon”, “The Watsons”, and most of the “Juvenilia.” An excellent sourcebook and essential for Jane Austen fans.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride_And_PrejudicePride and Prejudice was the first Jane Austen book I ever read. Picking it up was a part of my ongoing project of reading classics that I skipped in college. Knowing nothing about it, looking at the cover, I thought it might be a novel about upper class England and, although the book does deal with the upper class, it mostly deals with a middle class family.

The Bennet family, consisting of Mr. And Mrs. Bennet and their five girls, Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzy), Mary, Catharine (Kitty), and Lydia live in relative comfort, but without great wealth. However, with no male heirs, their estate has been entailed to a Mr. Collins, so that when Mr. Bennet passes, his wife and daughters will only have a very small amount of money–and no property–for their survival. It is incumbent on the daughters, then, to marry well.

When a Mr. Bingley moves in to the one great estate in the area, Mrs. Bennet is determined that he should marry one of his daughters. The book contains one of the most memorable opening lines of any novel ever written. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Mr. Bingley has brought his good friend, Mr. Darcy, along with him. Possessed of a great fortune and a beautiful estate, Darcy appears cold, distant, and–to Lizzy’s eyes–arrogant. While Mr. Bingley begins an attachment to Jane, Darcy brought to an even lower esteem when a young militia man, Mr. Wickham, tells Lizzy that Darcy did him a great evil in denying him the living that Darcy’s father had promised. Lizzy forms an attachment with Wickham, but Mr. Collins then comes to town with the notion of marrying one of the Bennet girls and keeping the property in the family.  When he proposes to Lizzy, however, she bluntly turns him down, so he instead marries her friend Charlotte Lucas.

Mr. Darcy, seeing what is going on between Bingley and Jane, urges his friend to retire to London, so the whole party packs up and leaves. Jane is sent to London to stay with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, in the hope of reuniting with Bingley.  In the meantime, Lizzy goes to visit Charlotte and meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt. When he shows up for a visit, he seeks out Lizzy and blunders out a proposal that takes her completely by surprise.  Angry at his actions–destroying her sister’s chance of happiness and Mr. Wickham’s hopes of fortune–she refuses him in a very emotional scene.

Of course, Mr. Wickham had lied about their past association.

The twin subjects of pride and prejudice are fully examined, not only in the characters of Lizzy and Darcy, but in the supporting characters as well. All of Lizzy’s actions throughout the first part of the book are based on a quickly formed prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s apparent pride is actually a difficulty in dealing with new acquaintances.  The same prejudice that put Mr. Darcy into a dim light also promoted the character of Wickham, who was actually a pretty bad person.  Mrs. Bennet certainly feels a great deal of false pride, having no idea how ridiculous she actually is.  Pride also appears in the form of Mr. Collins, whose obsequious fawning on Lady Catherine de Bourgh is both funny and insightful.

Almost lost in this circus of pride and prejudice is the amazing change that comes over Mr. Darcy after Lizzy rejects him. When she points out to him his own pride, it shakes him up so much that it causes a complete alteration of his character, partly because he didn’t see himself clearly before and partly because Elizabeth thinks these terrible things about him. After Elizabeth receives his letter, she is forced to reevaluate her own thinking and ultimately realizes her own prejudice.

The book is essentially a romantic comedy, but it touches on so many different aspects of English society at the beginning of the 19th Century that it ends up having a lot to say, without ever coming across as preachy. In dealing with such issues as women’s place in society, the economic structure of England, class relations, and child rearing, it reaches a very high level of storytelling, layering in themes far deeper than one would imagine in a romantic comedy.  It remains one of the most influential novels ever written and has spawned numerous films, clubs, and so on.

A wonderful novel! I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice to all readers!

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.


Isaac Asimov

Foundation


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories


Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre


Truman Capote

In Cold Blood


Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game


Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth


Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games


Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful


Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time


Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer


John Fowles

The Collector


Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust


Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn


Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards


Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You


Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea


Jack Kerouac

On The Road


Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams


Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz


Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird


Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is


Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern

Dragonsdawn

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The White Dragon


The Harper Hall Trilogy

Dragonsong

Dragonsinger

Dragondrums


The Renegades of Pern


All the Weyrs of Pern


Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God

Deepsix

Chindi

 

 

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield-ParkThe review contains a synopsis with some spoilers.

Jane Austen’s third novel deviates from the first two books quite dramatically, not only in the nature of her heroine, but also in her domestic position.

The novel deals principally with the progeny of three sisters. Mrs. Bertram has married into wealth and position. As the wife of Sir Thomas Bertram, she is mistress of Mansfield Park, a large country estate in Northamptonshire. They have four children, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Her sister, Mrs. Norris, marries into the clergy and her husband is resident in the Mansfield parsonage.

They have no children. The third sister, Mrs. Price, marries into the lower middle class and lives on the verge of poverty in Portsmouth with her husband, a former navy man. She has nine living children (and one deceased), the chief of which are William, the eldest, Fanny, the next eldest, and a younger sister, Susan.

As the novel opens, Mrs. Norris has conferred with the Bertrams about bringing one of their sister’s children from Portsmouth to live with them and it is decided that the eldest girl, Fanny, should be the one. She arrives as a slight, uneducated girl of ten, and is installed in an attic bedroom. From the very beginning, she is told that she is always to be inferior to Mrs. Bertam’s four children and Mrs. Norris takes great pains to make sure that she never forgets it. Although she becomes dedicated to helping the sickly Mrs. Bertram, she lives in fear of Sir Thomas, who seems very great to her indeed. Among the other children, only Edmund befriends her. He becomes her advocate and remains so throughout the novel.

The children grow up through their teen years and a pecking order is established. Tom, as the eldest son, is destined to inherit Mansfield Park and he lives his life in carefree abandon, gambling, traveling to London, and acquiring debts. Edmund is the more level-headed of the two, but he is destined to become a clergyman. The two Bertram girls grow up as privileged belles, and Fanny continues timid, shy, and very serious. Through Edmund’s efforts, she has been very well-educated, is a devout reader, and is constantly at needlework, but she never develops the habits of wealthy young ladies, such music or drawing.

Facing problems with his West Indies company, Sir Thomas sails to Antigua to set everything right. Maria eventually manages to secure a proposal of marriage from a local lordling, Mr. Rushworth, with assistance from Mrs. Norris. When Mr. Norris dies, Mrs. Norris moves into a smaller house. She is still present at Mansfield Park every day, organizing the household and the children, but the parsonage is now occupied by Dr. and Mrs. Grant. When family problems force Mrs. Grant’s half brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, into an extended visit at the parsonage, the two young urbanites become good friends with the Bertram children.

Against Edmund’s advice and Fanny’s strong disapproval, the young people decide to do a play for their own amusement. During the course of rehearsals, a lot of flirtation goes on. Henry Crawford is charming both Bertram girls, in spite of Maria’s engagement, while Mary Crawford takes a liking to Edmund. To create the theater, they appropriate Sir Thomas’ office and billiard room, but their plans go awry when Sir Thomas returns unexpectedly and puts an end to it. Maria marries Mr. Rushworth and they take Julia with them away to Brighton.

From that point on, everything goes downhill. Although Fanny very much disapproves of the Crawfords for a variety of moral and ethical reasons, Henry begins to court her, while Mary attempts to become her best friend. Fanny is astounded when Henry proposes to her. She goes into full retreat as she is pestered by everyone to agree to the marriage. She stoutly refuses and is eventually sent back to Portsmouth for two months so that she can see what her life would have been like without Mansfield Park to give her gentility. It is quite a shock to her, but she maintains her belief regarding the Crawfords and is eventually proved right.

Fanny Price is one of deepest and most well-constructed characters in all literature. Although she is timid to a fault, she learns everything that Mansfield Park can teach her and it all becomes a rock-solid part of her character. Once she has been molded, she becomes inalterable in her essence. Having seen first-hand what the Crawfords are, she does not deviate in her opinion of them, even when all around her would be duped. Even Edmund, steady as he is, becomes drawn to Mary Crawford, and Fanny grieves for him and wishes him to see the truth. When Sir Thomas approaches her with Henry Crawford’s proposal, she refuses to give in and stands up to him. Her personal feelings are always kept inside and she leaves others to discover truth for themselves. The few times during the novel when she becomes overwhelmed with events and breaks down, it seems truly catastrophic and creates deeply moving passages of writing.

In many ways, Mansfield Park is superior to Pride and Prejudice, which is her acknowledged masterpiece. The biggest downfall to the novel is the conclusion, which Ms. Austen writes first person, author to reader, summarizing how everything falls out, rather than creating scenes which depict this action. Otherwise, it is first rate all the way.

Austenland

Austenland PictureAustenland is a movie whose premise holds great promise, but is ultimately disappointing.

Released in 2013, this movie is based on a novel of the same name by Shannon Hale. The film was written by Hale and director by Jerusha Hess. Sadly, both of these creators made some very serious errors in planning this movie.

I haven’t read the book, so it is impossible for me to gauge whether they screwed it up or if it is faithful and the novel simply failed on its own.

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland where fans can dress like their favorite characters and act out with British actors hired to emulate such heroes as Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Even her life savings however does not qualify her for anything more than the “copper package” that gives her a tiny room and a disfavored status among the other tourists.

On the way there, she meets a rich and rather stupid American woman who introduces herself as Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and they travel together. The resort is run by a lady named Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) who has a great disdain for those who bought the cheap plan, the only one of which on this trip is Jane.

Making friends with the groundskeeper/chauffer Martin (Bret McKenzie), she find it tough sledding with the men who play the aristocrats, notably Mr. Heny Nobly (JJ Field) and Colonel Andrews (James Callis). One can guess what happens.  Most of the men fall for Jane while she is making out with Martin.  There are all sorts of hijinks that are supposed to be funny and in the end, she discovers that Martin himself was only an actor, paid to have a romance with her.  Both Martin and Mr. Nobly meet her at the airport on her way home and she rejects them both.

Any serious Jane Austen fan will find that this movie missed the mark in many, many ways.  I really like Keri Russell and I’ve got to say she was more or less wasted in this effort. The script needed to be much more heavy on Jane Austen and less concentrated on trying to be funny.  It could have incorporated a great deal from each of the books and been really funny and witty, but instead, it concentrates on the people playing the parts and one opportunity after another is passed by.  I detest movies that beg for laughs and fits that category.

 If you have an hour and a half to fill, this will keep you entertained, but it falls far short of its potential.