We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

I'd rather be reading Jane Austen · 14 November 06

Dear Harriet,

The bumper sticker, "I’d rather be reading Jane Austen" I ordered from an Internet site arrived today. I put it on my car bumper.

I also watched the 1999 Miramax Mansfield Park (written and directed by Patricia Rozema, starring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram, Johnny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram), and now that I’ve come to be able to agree film adaptations do translate parts of the originals as well as attempting the spirit, with the best will in the world to see this adaptation as different from the others, it’s just not. Everyone is emphasizing incidentals; in the large elements of the film, especially the engulfing beautiful landscape and the house as refuge, with the loving happy ending of the couple, this film provides the same kind of deep idyllic satisfactions as all the others.

I still think my essay-review which I argued the films are in their basic important essentials closely similar is accurate. Technology changes, the aesthetics of costuming, the stars, but for central elements plus ca change, moins ca change.

However, I admit that if you look at many of the separate elements you do find difference, and this would be the riposte to the argument Olson makes in Mapping Human History. In MHH, he says there are no separate races; in all major and important characteristics people are much the same, and in many minor ones where they differ, they are still ice cubes; it is only a set of superficial (surface) characteristics that people so dwell on and have built their systems of privilege and power. But if people do dwell on these, then they are important.

The film shows a hard mean and sexual father (Sir Thomas played by Harold Pinter); the son is debauched, bitter, twisted (Tom, played by James Purefoy); Mrs Price is shown to be a woman who is exploited sexually, domineered over & miserable (Lindsay Duncan who also plays a drunken or drugged Lady Bertram). We get a glimpse of sex in bed between Henry Crawford (played by Alessandro Nivola) and Maria Betram (played by Victoria Hamilton). The main house is not outstandingly serene and gorgeous, utterly kept up (the older non-renovated building used for Mansfield Park) and we see a good deal of the outside non-privileged world, including slavery, with all the references through books and conversation that it is on the bodies and destroyed lives of such people that the wealth of Sir Thomas depends.

Of course in the end all but the conventionally wicked characters (Maria Bertram and Mrs Norris, Sheila Gish made to act to trivialize the effect such a woman could have) are left at peace in the house. We cannot forget the Prices and the slaves but the hero and heroine walk deeply in love into the safe cottage.

And the production may not have been popular since it had no superstars. In my essay-review I point out the really popular films (the 1995 BBC P&P, the 1995 S&S and the Miramax 1996 Emma) have box-office top sexy stars. We can see the producers of this film did not really believe the story would go over well as they hired mostly non-stars and Johnny Lee Miller not handsome but emotionally effective and part of the stable of BBC actors; Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford remains as unknown as Sylvestra Le Tousel as Fanny Price in the 1983 MP (where Jonny Lee Miller was the young Edmund Bertram). None of them supposedly superbeautiful.

And no enormous amount of money was lavished on the production. The film was relatively short, there were no lavish displays, and only one house (not a combination of several) was filmed.

Yes the paper at the recent AGM of JASNA which analyzed Austen’s Mansfield Park as a gothic book can be said to have been done justice to by Rozema. She broke with the traditional subgenres for Austen’s films as McGrath for the 1996 Emma stayed with them.

Harold Pinter (Sir Thomas Bertram) sternly intimidating Fanny Price (Francis O’Connor) in Rozema and Miramax’s 1999 Mansfield Park


Posted by: Ellen

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