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

The latest _Mansfield Park_: a 'natural' heroine? · 28 March 07

Dear Harriet,

As promised, here again is Judy Geater’s review. I now think my comment at the end may be inaccurate, because even if Ryan is anorexic and Piper once was, Pipe is no longer. I also have profited from reading Nick’s comments (now put back).

Nick suggests that while apparently inadequate, and mostly unlike
Austen in many ways, the latest filmic Mansfield Park reveals class and philosophical conflicts in popular British culture and connects to Austen through a country/town, “natural” v. anti-cosmopolitan, anti-intellectual or rural/artifice contrast. I’m not sure the divide is fair to cosmopolitanism, and am uncomfortable when a heroine can be described as “animal” (as I myself demured with good reason against being described that way), but think the perception as a philosophical one and about class conflicts in Britain today goes far to explain the 2006 P&P and aspects of the 1995 A&E/BBC P&P. It’s also partly justified by Austen’s own texts (see my comments too).


Our English friend, Judy Geater, has allowed me to send along here her review of the latest Mansfield Park (2007, ITV, directed by Iain P. MacDonald, written by Maggie Wadey who also wrote the very sexy psychoanalytic & gothic 1986 NA). Judy’s review appears on her blog on Live Journal. She offers a much more balanced appraisal than I heard while I was at the 18th century conference:

“The main drawback with the new version of Mansfield Park is that it’s too short, plain and simply. Once all the ads are removed, it’s just 93 minutes long, which isn’t nearly enough to get the full flavour of the book and means large chunks have to be cut out. The most damaging loss is the whole Portsmouth section of the novel, taking with it all sense of the poverty of Fanny’s family and why Fanny might be under so much pressure to accept Henry.

There is no substitute for the more leisured pace of one of the older BBC adaptations. No wonder that the characters rush and gallop about, with some scenes where Fanny hurtles down the stairs at a frightening rate which left me expecting to fall over her long skirt. There probably wasn’t time for her to walk down the stairs at a more sedate pace.

I was surprised before seeing the film by the casting of blonde, curvy Billie Piper (a star name in Britain at the moment although not conventionally beautiful) as Fanny. On watching, my immediate impression was that she looked all wrong, wearing such low-cut dresses which might be in period but feel wrong for the character. There is also something very modern about her, though I can’t put my finger on what this is.

However, even if miscast, she is a good actress and I think did somehow grow into the part as the film went on, giving a feeling of Fanny’s nervousness and desire to stay in the background.

Despite these problems (and the shaky camerawork which is supposed to give a feeling of immediacy but feels a bit strange in a costume drama) I actually enjoyed this version more than I expected to after seeing the lukewarm/grudging comments from pundits on BBC’s ‘Late Review’ series. I liked it within its limits, and was interested to see that it does spend a lot of time on the performance of Elizabeth Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows.

After reading Ellen’s comments on the Bridget Jones movies, I was also interested to see that this version of MP starts off with Fanny narrating her own story in voiceover, although this element soon vanishes, except for a scene later on where she starts to write letters to Edmund, only to tear them up. For me this was one of the most successful scenes in this version.

As with the most recent (2006) P&P, I feel the casting of very young actors in the principal roles does work well in making them seem vulnerable and uncertain. I think both Edmund (Blake Ritson) and Mary (Hayley Atwell) are particularly well cast – and was pleased that Edmund is kept very true to the character in the novel rather than being made more daring or more of a standard romantic .

In the older generation I like both the actors they have chosen for Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Douglas Hodge and Jemma Redgrave – Redgrave is a favourite of mine from her role as an Edwardian woman doctor in the series Bramwell, which I liked very much. However, Lady Bertram does get most of the really bad and clunkingly un-Austenlike lines in this version, for some reason (“I think Julia is ready to be fallen in love with”), and, oddly, is also turned into a matchmaker.

I was startled for a minute to see actress Maggie O’Neill, who I mainly remember as a sexy temptress-type character in Take Me Home, a TV drama back in the 1980s, cast as Mrs Norris. (I gather she is now better-known for Shameless, a series I haven’t seen.) She plays Mrs Norris as apparently sweet but always whispering spiteful comments to Fanny when she thinks nobody else is listening, a more understated performance than usual with Mrs Norris, but one which I thought worked well.

All in all, I don’t think this version comes any where near to either the 1999 Miramax Rozema film or the older (1983) BBC version with Sylvestra Le Touzel, but I still enjoyed seeing another take on MP.

Judy Geater”

As ever Judy’s remarks are more thoughtful and perspicuous than most of what I read in print.

I surmize I too will enjoy parts of the film. I wrote a long time ago on C18-l that I have so long known, loved, and made Austen’s MP part of my consciousness, it’s hard for me not to rejoice in these richly visual and costumed dramatic recreations of it, and more recently after seeing the 1971 BBC Persuasion that the happy endings typical of the Austen films usually leave me suffused with joyous tears. Nonetheless, I find something very disquieting in what Judy rightly says is the use of the inappropriate type Billie Piper seems to project.

Here is a still I found online of Meg Ryan who plays Maria Bertram:

Ryan physically resembles Jen Malone, the anorexic young actress who played Lydia Bennet in the recent P&P.

The difference between the two gives the game away. I found this still of Ryan on a blog by someone who seemed to be a British teenage girl. It was the third in a series of very sexy stills: all the girls had their breasts pushed out prominently, wore flimsy and body-tight garments, low cut, and had pouting expressions or gestures and sloe or dulled eyes—all of which suggest kinky sex on offer. I am very troubled by the anorexia in both young women’s arms, chest cavity and neck; their child-like faces seem to me to make sex with a young or just nubile body part of the allurement here. The addition of a gilt cross to Billie Piper’s dress makes me think of Sade’s enjoyment of perversions of repressive Christianity. Perhaps the contemporaneity we feel here is the pornification of young women today?


Posted by: Ellen

* * *


  1. Here are some comments on the film that members of WWTTA wrote. First Angela R:

    “I had the misfortune to watch a new ‘21st century’ version of Mansfield Park on Sunday. Billie Piper played Fanny Price, running at top speed around the grounds and racing her pony!. She asked her uncle how he felt about slavery after he had returned from his estates. What could be more up to date?

    This is part of a Jane Austen season on our ITV channel. I’m looking forward to the Andrew Davies’ screen play of Northanger Abbey.

    Did any one else in the UK watch Mansfield Park?

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:46pm    #
  2. From Anna:

    “I don’t have a TV but I watched a bit of Mansfield Park at my in-laws about 50 minutes—and, unfortunately, had to go home before it was over.

    I didn’t enjoy it at all, and thought that condensing Mansfield Park in 2 hours was a bit over the top. The performances were OK, I was even surprised by Billie Piper, especiallh after having read in The Independent on Sunday that even when she was silent she couldn’t keep quiet …

    I thought that the adaptation focused too much on the cheesy bits, and on all the stolen kisses. A lot of the story was amiss because the focus was on a long gaze between two young people. Which actually reminded me of the adaptation of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins on ITV: same problem. Most of the story went astray, and ten minutes probably covered an average of 70 pages, and of these 70 pages, only the bits involving flirting were included. And in these books, there is very little flirting or actual naughtiness within the narratives. So much more is restrained, dignified, and gentrified, that’s what makes the reading of the actual books so appealing.

    The ITV adaptations devote too much energy on the costumes and on finding a pretty cast, but not enough on the actual drama and tension of the novels. The Woman in White is really a mystery, and in the adaptation, it seemed to me that no one cared about the woman in white, and it struck me as a (poor)romance story.

    The only good thing about these ITV adaptations is that they both made me want to (re)read the novels.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:47pm    #
  3. I rejoined:

    “It seems the film-makers are particularly anxious to get rid of the character Austen invented. Fanny remains anxious when she’s on a horse, even after long coercion and practice and a sense of the gained health and enjoyment she gets from her pony. Austen’s Fanny is nervous, awkward, inward, self-contained, studious, a reader, someone who loves to retreat into her attic and look at the pictures she’s been given, and read travel books. In his book, Roger Gard does justice to Fanny and suggests it’s in her character the greatness of the core of MP’s “messages” (themes, experience) lies. I summarized his chapter on Fanny Price as “the underdog, vulnerable, & nervous.”


    I went to a super-crowded Austen session where Margaret Doody made the wise comment (one I made in response to the women on WWTTA) that this inability to put Fanny Price on screen suggests Fanny is what makes Austen serious and great; it’s what these pop films cannot contain.

    I also note that Judy said they chose much younger actors. On Austen-l a long time ago I remember one of the fans indignant and “the great age” of Emma Thompson. Perhaps the Janeite was 16 herself. I know that literally Marianne is 17 and Elinor 19, but in fact at least when I read the books I don’t imagine young teenagers. Why? Because very frequently Austen puts into their mouths (as well as her other heroines and young heroes) thoughts 16 and 19 year olds don’t have. “We are all offending every day of our lives,” says Marianne Dashwood, to which Elinor produces a philosophical statement about inward freedom John Stuart Mill wouldn’t have minded publishing at age 45. I take the ages of the heroes and heroines in many 18th century novels and some 19th century ones to be conventions: they allow the novelist to realistically present the girls as probable virgins, and we are to see them all as people trying to find a niche in life (itself somewhat unrealistic since in these earlier eras the niche came from family connections and intermarriage in this milieu). So it may be the uncertainty element is brought in, but the actual reading experience of a deep novel is lost—because the depth is that of a woman writing in her mid- to later 30s.

    I know I must be so tedious when I return to my “mantra” of how realism is not what we find in these books, but I think I do because as a reader while I require (I’ve learned) a minimum of realistic techniques (some of the conventions of time and place and especially death and space and probabilities) and psychological depths in the characters, I also am “suspending my disbelief” only partly when I read. I know there’s an author there all the time, and I’m communing with that author. (Why I don’t like Golden Notebook? Well, I can’t like the imagined presence of Doris Lessing as she presents herself and expects me to sympathize with).

    Cynic that I am I think they are hiriing very young actors to make these films into part teen-movies.

    Having said that I notice in all the transpositions, the actors are young (or seem young, again there is a little cheating for some of the actors) because the sense of Austen’s books is of young people entering the world and having to cope with serious problems and obstacles they can’t overcome easily.

    Not Persuasion so I hope we’ll be allowed a more mature actess there :)

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:48pm    #
  4. Diana and I on WWTTA:

    Ellen wrote: “Cynic that I am I think they are hiriing very young actors to make these films into part teen-movies.”

    “Why do you think that’s being cynical? That’s just a fact. That is exactly what they are consciously and purposely doing. Austen had a big boom with the movies, reached an unprecedentedly wide audience; producers have realized there is a whole untapped market if they make new movies that are even more like a Telenovela to appeal to a very large and very young crowd.”

    In response to Diana, I didn’t really think I was cynical. I was being realistic, but in popular parlance “cynical” has been downgraded to “realistic” and in the US there is a strong thrust against telling the candid truth.

    I’d say not just Elinor but all the Austen heroines from the first of the serious novels published on, S&S (1811) have the central characters speaking and feeling in ways that are rare for young people, but not rare for highly intelligent 30 to 40 year olds. We accept the convention of the plot-designs that these are characters entering the world because that’s a situation ripe with possibilities, but we know (at least I do) we are not reading the thoughts or even actions of teenagers.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:49pm    #
  5. To follow up on Margaret Doody’s comment on Fanny Price, while just about all the remarks I heard outside the sessions registered dislike of the recent MP (one person said he couldn’t watch after 45 minutes; another that Billie Piper is a “sexpot” star more suitable to recent interpretations of Moll Flanders), during the crowded Jane Austen session a paper was given where the writer tried to understand this new spate of sexualized films as a response to the harsh anti-woman conditions of our present decade.

    I have not seen the latest “improvement” of Cassandra’s drawing of Jane Austen. I am wondering if instead of making her complacent and plump the way Edward Austen-Leigh did, the new improvers attempted to pornify her too (make her superthin, sexy). If so, I can understand why someone on one of my lists called it ghastly.

    As Mr Woodhouse might say, poor young women.

    E. M.
    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:50pm    #
  6. I just knew Nick’s acuity would see things others don’t begin to or at least won’t discuss:

    From Nick:

    “I did see MP and half of NA last night. I think I will blog about them sometime if I get the chance. I feel very reluctant to write on-list as feelings are so strong. But frankly some of the comments are just utterly bizarre. I am very much in general agreement with Judy.

    Incidentally, Take me Home which she mentions is one of the greatest pieces of television drama I have ever seen: it remains seared on my mind in the way that only those cultural artefacts which have really affected you do) – but to describe Billie Piper as a sex-pot! Dear oh dear! She is exactly the opposite, both here and in her general persona. I just don’t understand what is meant by sex-pot if Billie Piper in this production can de described as such.

    I fully understand that she has nothing to do with Austen’s Fanny Price but not because she is a sex-pot; because she is a very physical girl, running around, galumphing might be a good word, riding, playing games and so on. But there is nothing sexy about her.

    She is a natural animal. That is the film’s dialectic. Natural, physical, honest, rural is good; refined, mental, devious, urban is bad. It may be more 18thC (Fielding?)than Austen; it also reflects a very deep feeling in current British society – a revulsion with Blair and his polish, spin, deviousness.

    All this is made very clear in the adaptation and I don’t understand how people missed it. I suppose because (and you have taught me so much about this especially from your discussion of the Pallisers) they are looking at a comparison with the text, not at the adaptation as a work in its’ own right.

    The sexy women are the Bertram girls, Maria Crawford – who are never seen galumphing around, playing games etc. Piper’s blondeness is not a sophisticated blondeness; indeed nothing about her is sophisticated. Physical but not sexy. I am searching for a comparison – I think it is the something modern which Judy talks about; a new type – so I cannot find one.

    She is the very opposite of anorexic incidentally. Full of animal spirits is the best description – but animal as in natural and physical not as in sexual – I can find. A lot of time is given to showing her nursing Tom and one of the ways in which she does this is by reading to him accounts of the day’s horse-racing results; again I doubt this is in Austen (?) but it is wholly consistent with the character which Wadey has created; she is simply good – but her goodness is of a very modern kind.

    Again I emphasise that I realise this is wholly opposite to Austen’s conception (at least as I understand it from reading your appraisal and criticism) but it is not opposite because she is a sex-pot!

    I find that I am more forceful in my defence than the adaptation warrants; having watched it immediately after the Rozema I know that the latter is a work of much greater substance and interest. But the most recent adaptation is of interest as reflecting a certain modern dialectic ; one which I found quite obvious and am baffled as to why other’s do not see it.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:51pm    #
  7. IN response to Nick,

    I do have perhaps too strong a response to inculcated anorexia and enforced sexuality. This is the result of my own miserable early teen years. Sometimes I surmize I have blanked out on ages 17 to 19 because it’s so painful I’m better off not remembering.

    When others said the movie was sexy and I saw these sorts of stills, my comment on blog was my first response. But I had a hunch there was a content in this film which wasn’t getting to the surface.

    The return to nature Nick talks about is nowhere in the US. The caricature of working class people and worship of artificial luxury just too strong.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:52pm    #
  8. Nick adding some more:

    On Piper… no something I didn’t say in my comments was that this production was very national one – aimed at a UK TV audience. Piper’s cultural resonance will not cross the Atlantic. This MP was a star vehicle but a star vehicle in terms of a UK TV audience (one might say this was one of its bigger faults actually). I will try and write more about this if I blog.

    I have been thinking more about a comparison and the closest might be Julia Roberts – there is the same non-sexual physicality. And I would also add that one reason it received a bad reception from some critics here (those on Newsnight Review, a high-brow arts panel) is that its dialectic attacks precisely the milieu those critics come from: metropolitan, cultured, non-physical, urbane, mannered. Another significant example from the adaptation (I know you have talked about dances in the adaptation) here the concluding scenes were of a dance but very, very unlike your standard Austen adaptation dance (which appear again in the NA adaptation); here the dance is out-of-doors and is as ‘natural’ and physical as possible. There is no formality, no manners.

    The most significant quote from the adaptation is when Sir Thomas remarks that he thought his daughters were good but they were really just good-mannered (I imagine this is lifted in some shape from the text?); but in the adaptation is not Austen’s vision of goodness but one of rural/natural/physical innocence.

    I have been thinking more about this in an 18thC context too – there the urban/mannered badness tended to be associated with women as in Smollett’s horrible Clinker book. Here Piper’s role suggests that women can be just as rural/unmannered/physical good as men. Or maybe even Doris Day in Calamity Jane? Except that in this adaptation Piper is not expected to become ‘feminized’ or neutered in the way that Day has to. Yes Doris Day in the early parts of Calamity Jane is not too bad a comparison :).

    The problem with any pictures of Piper are that in the first place she was in near-perpetual motion in the film as part of that physicality I have talked about, and the second is that I suspect the stills tend as far as possible to attempt to emphasise her sexuality.

    However there are several at:


    the very first one is perhaps best.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:53pm    #
  9. Thank you to Ellen for putting up my review and for the encouraging comments – I am only a very occasional blogger.:) It does seem as if this production has drawn some strong reactions. I was especially interested in Nick’s comments about the rural/urban, indoor/outdoor divide – this hadn’t struck me, but yes. Fanny in this version is in her element riding, walking, eating a hearty picnic or taking part in country dancing – and, on the class element, at one point Henry says he mistook her for a maid. (I don’t remember whether or not this line is in Austen? I suspect not).

    — Judy
    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:54pm    #
  10. From C18-l, Yvonne Noble:

    “Well, Independent Television in Britain has just had (a week ago) another Mansfield Park with Billie Piper as Fanny. An actress more unsuitable can’t be imagined: loose mussed hair, bursting bosom, cheerful grin, lots of pep and bounce.

    Yesterday was a Northanger Abbey, much better than the Mansfield Park, interpolations in muted tone to convey to viewers not familiar with Radcliffe and Monk Lewis the images of Catherine Morland’s fearful imagination.

    Next Sunday is promised a Persuasion.

    Yvonne Noble”
    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:56pm    #
  11. From Austen-l, Juliet Youngren:

    “I haven’t seen it yet, obviously, but I’m not at all surprised to hear that Billie Piper doesn’t fit the role of Fanny Price. I admit I’ve only seen her in Doctor Who, and then only in a couple of episodes, but I do remember thinking that she’d have to be an astonishing chameleon to go from that role to Fanny Price convincingly.

    Juliet Youngren”
    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:57pm    #
  12. More from Judy:

    “I feel rather as [Nick] does, that I’m sounding more in favour of this very slight adaptation than I actually am, because others are so against it and so even fairly mild favourable comments sound like high praise by contrast. I fear you may well be dismayed by it when you see it, but I thought you would find it interesting to watch it anyway, even if you don’t get all the way through.

    On the anorexia, maybe the stills are misleading …I agree with Nick that Billie Piper doesn’t look at all anorexic and is quite curvy and healthy-looking, if anything slightly on the large side in fact. (Charlotte tells me people have been making bitchy comments on some websites about Billie being fat). However, only the other day I noticed a press interview with her about how she had a battle with anorexia when she was younger and had a short-lived pop music career.

    The other actress, Michelle Ryan (I’ve been struggling to remember her name after you asked and in the end checked …), was in a TV soap in Britain and I remember there were press reports a few years ago that she had some kind of breakdown. Unfortunately, the networks work these young TV actresses much too hard and many seem to have problems in coping. But I don’t know if she had an eating disorder and I must say she looked OK to me in this production, not painfully thin like Keira Knightley, who does worry me.

    My problem really with the costumes was the fact that they were so low-cut.

    Elinor    Mar 28, 8:58pm    #
  13. Dear Nick and Judy,

    I read a fascinating essay a while back by a Noble Prize winner, “Why Buy That Theory” by Roald Hoffman. Hoffman outlined the kind of theories that are accepted. He said they were: simple yet explained a lot in a flash (e.g, theory of natural selection); 2) weaves a neat pattern which is story-like; 3) can be applied to other things (portable); 3) they stimulate people to do science illustrating them or using them; 4) they seem to classify reality (thus all at once) productive, portable, storytelling, aesthetically pleasing; 5) they are done by an insider.

    Nick’s insight into this MP if so (I haven’t seen it yet myself so put in this proviso) comes up to criteria 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    Judy may remember she and I agreed what was powerful in the 2006 P&P was its intense stills, the way the expressions of the faces seemed to say so much. What we didn’t discuss (and others did) was the pig in the garden (which hit Brayfield so strongly) nor the Fieldingesque costumes, and in particular the emphasis on primitive rural conditions. Actually I didn’t know what to make of it, and this included the strange costumes, except that these were anticipated by the costumes of the 1995 Persuasion (especially Anne’s in the second half and Wentworth’s throughout).

    Nick’s theory explains the P&P costumes, what we were seeing in the second (1995) Persuasion. He also explains a movie I’m much interested in (which shows that this turn to the primitive and rural as innocent can be an American trope): Ruby in Paradise where as in Whit Stillman’s films (which I can’t recommend strongly enough) there are these strong allusions to Austen. The difference would be that Ruby rejects the false technology; it’s not urbane and cosmopolitan v simplicity and and naturalness, but rather machines/gadgets/artifical absurd luxuries v things which come out of human labor more naturally, like books/simple cooking/plain tasteful surroundings, no neon, no hideous malls but rather trees and skies and beaches. There’s a classic American critical book called The Machine in the Garden which argues this is a perpetual American motif.

    Is there some justification in Austen? Yes. Says Cowper, “God made the country, man made the town.”’ In MP it’s clear that the Crawfords have been corrupted partly by their time in the city (London). The difference is for Austen the country is not that primitive; the country is more of the good taste rural elegance Marie Antoinette tried to set up in Trianon; it’s “la belle nature.”

    My problem with this binary way of seeing reality is it’s anti-intellectual at heart. I value the mind and think the 18th century literary movements peculiar to it valued the more sophisticated civilization as more humane. Cosmopolitanism was a good value, taking us away from tribal barbarism, violence, exclusionary tactics.

    Another theme in the new MP is in Austen: thought the language is different Sir Thomas means he thought his children were good when they were only good-natured. The narrator through indirect speech has Sir Thomas realize he has only managed to convey to them hollow good manners, not sound ethics. This idea is in Emma when Mr Knightley says Frank is amiable in the French sense (manners) but not the English (deep in the soul kindness). It recurs in Persuasion where the young Mr Elliot has the manners of a dancing-master and morals of a whore (to echo Johnson on Chesterfield).

    It makes sense that the film would be narrowly aimed at British TV audiences since TV audiences are seen as less sophisticated. I look forward to hearing about the new NA if either of you has time. Put a review on either ECW or WW if you are minded and we’ll get what others felt. I gather NA was well-watched. Davies has a strong reputation.

    Nearly 1 now, I must to bed,
    Elinor    Mar 28, 9:00pm    #
  14. From Shakesper-Net: "The ITV season of single drama adaptations of Jane Austen kicked off last Sunday with a much truncated version of Mansfield Park, starring Billie Piper as Fanny Price (adapt. Maggie Wadey, producer Suzan Harrison, director Iain B. MacDonald, Company Pictures, ITV 18 March 2007).

    The scene in which Henry Crawford ‘forces’ Fanny to attend to his brilliant but chameleon-like readings of different characters from ‘Henry VIII’ is replaced by his delivery of Lorenzo’s lines to Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, clearly addressed to Fanny: ‘The moon shines bright. In such a night as this/ When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees/ And they did make no noise – in such a night/Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls,/And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents/Where Cressid lay that night’ (5.1.1-6). Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) comments that his reading was like ‘being at a play’,and Sir Thomas (Douglas Hodge) that ‘The play must be a favourite of yours’. Crawford says that it will be now but ‘to tell the truth I like an audience’ at which Fanny laughs. A comment from Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) makes it clear that this marks Fanny’s grasp of Crawford’s true nature.

    Instead of the original reference to the way in which Shakespeare becomes part of an Englishman’s ‘constitution’ by a form of natural osmosis Crawford is made to say ‘I’ve often resolved to make good my neglect of Shakespeare but it would take regular study and I am not constant in my habits’. Fanny comments that she thinks it a pity that he does not always know himself as well as he did at that moment. Their private conversation then develops into one about his constancy, and desire to improve her opinion of him.

    Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (scripted by Andrew Davies) are to follow) and all will be available on DVD later in the Spring.

    Susanne Greenhalgh”
    Elinor    Mar 28, 9:05pm    #
  15. From Janeites:


    I’m a long term off and on lurker, finally jumping in. It seems to me that most of JA’s heroines are judgmental. Elizabeth Bennet is certainly not kind in her opinion of Bingley’s sisters, nor is she accepting of Charlotte’s choice to marry Mr. Collins. Both Elinor and Marianne find fault with the John Dashwoods, the Middletons, Mrs Ferrars, Robert Ferrars, Mrs Jennings, the Palmers, the Steeles. Emma thinks the Coles beneath he r, despises Mrs Elton, finds Jane Fairfax too reserved, etc, etc. Anne Elliot knows herself to be more elegant than the Musgroves, and finds fault with her father and sisters. In NA, we long for Catherine to wake up and become appropriately judgmental about the Thorpes. The only truly non-judgmental character in JA is Jane Bennet.

    But it seems to be only Fanny who is accused of being judgmental. Perhaps it’s more about the attractiveness of the Crawfords than it is about Fanny. I find her reticence to express her negative opinions of the Crawfords a lot more appealing than Emma’s discourtesy to Miss Bates, or Marianne’s incivility to almost everyone.


    A reply

    "I think that is very true, all her heroines are judgmental. Some of their judgments are of course easier to agree with than others. You can't blame Elizabeth for disliking the Bingley women for instance, and she is correct in her judgment of them. Some of Emma's judgements I can understand, she finds Jane Fairfax too reserved, and she's not the only one. Mr Knightley is also repelled by Jane Fairfax's reserve. Anne Eliot likes the Musgroves, but she is aware of their shortcomings, but that doesn't stop her liking them. You can't really blame for for finding fault with her father and sisters, all of whom are very trying people. Fanny's judgment of the Crawfords turns out to be the correct one after all. I think on the whole Jane Austen approved of a certain degree of judgment on the part of her heroines, it shows they have a proper sense of how people should be. And Catherine Moorland of course suffers from the defect of not being able to judge anyone, at least at first. Then she goes too far and judges General Tilney to be a murderer (though I am still inclined to beleive that she may have been right about that, I wouldn't put anything past the General).


    Am I Fanny's only fan? At the risk of exposing myself as a minority of one, I will say that, not only is Mansfield Park my favorite Jane Austen novel, but I like Fanny Price. Indeed, Fanny is everything everyone says about her, but those less likeable traits: the rigidity, restraint, and moral judgements, are the very qualities that enable her to discern Henry Crawford's arts, withstand the pressure from the Bertrams, and hope for a happy ending. Fanny listens to the "better guide" we all have within "ourselves, if we would attend to it." In her situation, I'm sure I would have caved on the spot, or earlier. Perhaps we reveal ourselves when we chose the beneficiaries of our literary affections.

    Is it possible that Fanny is a reflection of Jane Austen's state of mind at the time she wrote MP? Could aging, a narrowing of opportunities, and a long literary dry spell have influenced the creation of a character that gave voice to her own feelings of exclusion, poverty, and displacement? Perhaps she wrote her way out of her own unhappiness, into the next productive phase of her life.

    Cindy Jones"

    To which I replied:

    "Character erupts from a great novelist's consciousness and so the source is multifold. But one source for Fanny (this is to Cindy) is Jane Austen observing the sensitivity of her niece, Caroline Austen, when she went to visit the Knightley (Edward Austen's children) at the superrich house in Kent.

    The comment is in the letters and shaped to be balanced to please Cassandra, but you can see one origin for Fanny there.

    For what it's worth, I have recognized Fanny Price in myself since the age of 15 and have deeply empathized with her. Mansfield Park along with Emma is in my judgement (ahem) a masterpiece. It's never far from my consciousness.

    At the 18th century conference I went to I attended a Jane Austen session (packed) at which Margaret Doody remarked that the telling reality is the recent movies cannot accommodate, cannot contain Fanny Price, they must erase her for her truth and consciousness are what must be erased in order for complacency and chick-lit to go on.

    This is not to say I didn't enjoy the 1999 Rozema film. I did. And my favorite heroine is Elinor Dashwood.
    Elinor    Mar 28, 9:12pm    #
  16. I found a comment I made on Austen-l when I was 5/6s the way through watching the 1983 MP for the second time and thought I’d add it here:

    I’m about 4/6s through the 1983 film adaptation of Mansfield Park as made available on modern video cassettes (there were further episodes in the original airing which don’t appear in this video), and want to say how much I am enjoying it, and how really good it is. I want to say this because it’s mostly forgotten or ignored, partly (I think) because it doesn’t use modern computer technologies and its chief actors are not box-office stars. One of the more dismaying features of criticism of Austen movies is the nagging insistence on how this or that actress was ugly, and most essays I’ve read on MP (by women too) cannot resist gushing over later “beautiful” actresses (say Gweneth Paltrow, whose anorexic type is
    conventionally beautiful) and never giving Sylvestra Le Tousel a look in that’s serious. Her performance as Fanny is every bit as good as Anna Massey’s as Aunt Norris and Nicholas Farrell’s performance as Edmund. I’m particularly appalled when the reviewer is a woman. (Is there no sympathetic identification whatsoever? Papill wrote as if she were planning to go to bed with the actress; it’s an unexamined taking over of an imagined conventional image for men.)

    Unlike the 1972 Emma, this 1983 MP does not have a “reading” or interpretation to project so much (though the one in the 1972 Emma seems to me accurate as far as it does and thus enrichens a reading of Austen’s text) as to present the story in subtle, slow, nuanced ways. The long scenes at the meals, the long sequence at Sothertonand then the play itself is done fine justice to. In some ways I find I’m preferring this 1983 film to the 1972 film of Emma and admit that’s partly because the production values are more modern (many scenes in the countryside where there are only 2 in the older Emma film), the improvement in color, in camera focus, but also I like this long lingering quality whose accent is unfolding intricate psychology. This we see in how Massey is on the surface plausible (much like Shakespeare's Iago should be played) but how when she is left alone with Fanny or on rare occasions in front of others (as in the scene where she humiliates Fanny over refusing to take a part in the play) she exposes herself. The film does not omit the ethical austere dimensions of the original book, the themes of memory and retreat (through Fanny Price, the character’s mind and nature), and the realities of victim and social injustice towards the powerless (e.g., Fanny) which so bother and offend some modern viewers.

    I don’t have time to say more and want to watch the whole thing before I write more. There is (I rejoice to say) an essay comparing the more recent 1999 MP with this earlier one: Jan Fergus’s “Two Mansfield Parks: purist and postmodern,” in Jane Austen on Screen, edd. Gina Macdonald and Andrew F. Macdonald. Fergus criticizes Rozema’s film on different but apt grounds from the usual: not only is it too short; it resorts to unnuanced caricature, and omits the social injustice Austen herself clearly does focus on. She makes the point that in general the 1990s films resort to caricature and not only because they’re shorter. Davies 1995 P&P was long and it’s shrieking Mrs Bennet and rowdy hoyden superfluously anti-sentiment Lydia were choices he made.

    I wrote in interim to suggest two things about the difference between these earlier films and the more recent ones: the older ones, they are in general more nuanced and sentimental, feelingly; the newer ones show something happening to movies from popular culture: a distrust and dislike of sentiment, an area as central to Austen’s novels as her satire. So in effect the later ones move away from the proto-feminism of Austen’s novels because they do cut the sentiment and don’t allow the other subplots (relationships between women) to emerge so that with the exception of the 1995 S&S by Emma Thompson where the relationship between the sisters and mothers trumps the romance story (a very good essay on this in the same volume as the one Fergus wrote appears: Penny Gay’s “Sense and Sensibility in a post-feminist world”), the other later films tend to turn the women into rivals sheerly, even the 1996 Meridian Emma where some justice is done to Emma and Mrs Weston as a relationship, and an attempt to return to the importance of Mrs Elton as a version of Emma herself writ large and quite right to get back at the snobbish complacent Emma for snubbing her.

    Let me emphasize that I have not said I prefer the earlier films to the later ones as such, only pointed out some qualities in the earlier ones lost in the later.

    Elinor    Mar 29, 1:09pm    #
  17. Dear all,

    I’ve finally finished all the essays in Robert Mayer’s Eighteenth-Century Fiction on Screen and would like to recommend it heartily. Just about every essay departs from (that is, it does not ignore, but does not use imagined fidelity as a basis of the evaluative) the criteria of literal fidelity to discuss the film or films at hand as art in their own right and really describe what we see and hear while we are watching the film.

    The result is you learn a lot about what you have not admitted to yourself you actually have been watching and listening to. This is not to deplore it, but to get people to acknowledge it so we may understand the sources of the medium’s power and pleasures.

    One essay in particular I’d like to point to as it connects to Nick’s analysis of the themes intended by the latest filmic verion of Mansfield Park. Nick suggested the new Mansfield Park spoke to a movement in Britain today which may be described as a “return to naturalness” and “simplicities,” a distrust of the cosmopolitan, urbane and sophisticated. It seemed to me we see the same transformation of the visibilia of these motion pictures from luxury and artifice to the farmhouse primitive world in the 2005 P&P (so it’s not just a matter of dressing Mr Bennet in a Fielding-novel like outfit) and the animal freshness of spirits in Darcy and Elizabeth in the 1995 P&P.

    According to Janet Sorenson, this movement has overtaken the film of Rob Roy. Now I really enjoyed this 1995 United Artists film directed by Michael Caton-Jones, screenplay Alan Sharpe, all the while I knew it omitted the hero and heroine and main Scots Edinburgh family of Scott’s novel (Frank Osbaldistone, Diana Vernon) and began about 2/3s the way into the novel. The film took what happened late and thus in the margins of the book and made it the only visuals in town. Part of the appeal for me was Liam Neeson, but he appeals because he also embodies this “natural world” of the Highlanders. I could also identify with Jessica Lange (as Rob Roy’s wife, Mrs MacGregor) and was moved when after she was raped by the English, Rob Roy found no need to forgive her or feel alienated, rather identified, sorrowed for her and declared he’d not let it happen ever more. However, Sorenson is right: the world of class privilege and the aristocrats is extravagant, stylized. The problem says Sorenson is this sincerely meant sentimentalized Highland gothic also reinforces nationalism, makes ethnic distance more important than class, and flatters whites into seeing themselves as part of the ennobled oppressed.

    Essays on the films, Barry Lyndon and Tom Jones show how much visual experiences having nothing to do with the plot-design are what we cherish films most.

    Elinor    Apr 3, 1:46am    #

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