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

_Persuasions_: pure emotional pain from one end to the other · 1 May 07

Dear Marianne,

A follow-up letter. As you may have guessed from my allusion to Austen’s novel and Anne Eliot’s longing for “good company” in this morning’s “Morning Light”, I rewatched the 1995 Persuasion and the 2007 Persuasion in tandem Sunday night and Monday afternoon.

This 2007 Persuasion (Shergold and Burke’s) is an astonishing feat: pure emotional pain from one end to the other. The way it communicates is sheerly cinematographically too: building on the insight into Austen’s book in the 1995 Persuasion (Nick Dear and Roger Michell’s), it relied heavily on softly neurotic piano music which provided a backdrop of dissonant harmonies (reminding me in its insistence at times and repetition of Philip Glass’s music), and a rearrangement of the novel to make the focus on two estranged people coming slowly back together (against a backdrop of the indifference, obtuseness, cruelty, and obstructionist tactics of those around them), this achieved in the later film through the camera work in scene after scene (which forces us to see them interacting silently). The 2007 team added to this continual swift dissolves; a frequent strong dominating voice-over by the heroine writing in her diary (Sally Hawkins as Anne would look up at us the audience in her intense longing with a face twisted with grief and loss, and trying hard to hold on to her pride); and even more frequent close-ups of both hero (Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth would sometimes be seen from the back, a kind of emotional teasing of the audience).

The music in both Persuasions made me think of Elizabeth Bishop’s sonnet:

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow.

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, hat sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

This new Persuasion wrung my heart. I felt an indescribable joy at seeing something so precious lost & retrieved. What a sweet fairytale, and how does it console? Well at least someone (Miss Austen and whoever controlled the final creation of this last Persuasion) understands.

And then (by association) I remembered Bishop’s

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

.. Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


I’ve been thinking about this poem since I read a brilliant (and to me) moving essay by Tania Modleski, “Time and Desire in the Woman’s Film” (in Home is Where the Heart Is, ed Christine Gledhill. Modleski argues that the structure soap operas take and the woman’s film (cyclical and no climax or completed closure) is based on the different ways in which men and women mourn, and that on their different experiences in life. Women, she suggests, open themselves to loss, seize it as an opportunity and challenge, live it, do not leap over and ignore it (often risking cracking altogether—characteristic of men as encouraged by the people they find themselves surrounded by), but rather do not withhold themselves.

It becomes an open memory that tuns back; they do not resist relinquishing, and then they do not suffer but experience a haunted joy. I find this in phrases in women’s books, for me the best remembered from Austen, as in Persuasion ‘One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering….’, or Pride and Prejudice or Elizabeth Bennet’s suggestion to Mr. Darcy when he says he cannot understand how she can take pleasure in rereading his harsh letter to her that the past’s mixture of pain and pleasure gives remembrance its full poignancy.

Maybe the art of losing is harder to master than Miss Bishop lets on, but she is articulating an experience peculiarly feminine.

Here is Cixous’s take:

Man cannot live without resigning himself to loss. He has to mourn. It’s his way of withstanding castration. He goes through castration, that is, and by sublimation incorporates the lost object. Mourning, resigning one­self to loss, means not losing. When you’ve lost something and the loss is a dangerous one, you refuse to admit that something of yourself might be lost in the lost object. So you ‘mourn’, you make haste to recover the investment made in the lost object. But I believe women do not mourn, and this is where the pain lies. When you’ve mourned it’s all over after a year, there’s no more suffering. Woman, though, does not mourn, does not resign herself to loss. She basically takes up the challenge of loss …, seizing it, living it. Leaping. This goes with not withholding; she does not withhold. She does not withhold, hence the impression of constant return evoked by this lack of withholding. It’s like a kind of open memory that ceaselessly makes way …

Here is one source of what Austen is doing in her novels.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. I’ve now read that the 3 new Austen films will be broadcast on American TV this coming fall, probably November, all of them on PBS. I looked up what companies the ITV label stands for and in each case it was a different independent, plus WBGH Boston (a PBS film-making station). So it was planned to show them on US TV from the very start.
    Elinor    May 1, 8:44am    #
  2. Another afterthought (P.P.S.): I would say it was not the great acting of Sally Hawkins and sufficient presence of Rupert Henry-Jones; rather the power of this most recent Austen film came from cinema-techniques whereas the earlier ones (particularly those before the revolution in computer technologies and cameras and sound in the mid-1990s)depended on many scenes carefully acted by a trained ensemble.

    Thus the 1972 Emma and this 2007 Persuasion make a striking contrast as a pair of films that way—while say another of the recent three, the 2007 NA combines cinema techniques (though only a few and not done in that interesting a way) with the trained ensemble.

    Since I’m a literary critic at heart, I like the older Emma (and P&P and Mansfield Park) because there does feel a lot to say, and so much about several different characters—the same holds true of the Whitman films (Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco), which is why I’ve not written on the blog about them. I don’t know where to begin.

    Elinor    May 2, 8:54am    #
  3. From a friend on ECW:

    Thank you for yours, Ellen! I’ve been a bit swamped lately and unable to keep up with all the listserv emails, but I’ve very much enjoyed your thoughts on the Jane Austen adaptations.
    Take care!

    —Literature is the lie that tells the truth, that shows us human beings in pain and makes us love them, and does so in a spirit of honest revelation. ~ Dorothy Allison.
    Elinor    May 3, 9:01pm    #
  4. “Has the latest film of Persuasion been transformed into a DVD? My class on Austen’s cinema adaptations might like to see it before we conclude on May 17.

    I replied:

    "Not that I know of. My copy is a home-made videocassette which my friend taped off her TV for me and mailed to me (minus the commercials even -- a kind friend you see).

    Elinor    May 5, 11:11am    #

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