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

That ill wind · 6 July 07

More prequel thoughts for It’s an ill wind that does nobody any good: to the obvious candidates of Jane Bennet, Mary Bennet, Anne de Bourgh, Charlotte Lucas Collins (the last three from 1979 P&P), Eliza Brandon and Eliza Williams, Jane Fairfax, Harriet Smith (as Samantha Morton in the 1996 Emma did it), Mary Musgrove (from 2007 Persuasion plus Sophie Thompson), Mrs Clay (as read by Glenda Jackson, pathos from the 1996 Persuasion), I add Kitty Bennet (again the 1979 P&P). Would I dare Fay Weldon’s Mrs Bennet? Lady Susan (a la the horrible mother, Helen in Female Friends).

Praising fallen women—those who did not chose to fall, but were pushed and got up again. The funny passage somewhere in Weldon about never ever getting pregnant. How nevertheless they did what they could. A series of short tales. Only in the light of the endings will the lives make any kind of sense.

And I’ve added: An Ill Wind Toughening Up her Poor Cold Heart: It would be a book of letters written just after Orley Farm closes, and beween my heroine, Mary Mason (nee Johnson) and her loving friend, Edith Orme. I’d present all that is told and not dramatized and is of intense importance to Trollope’s novel too. The Mason tradesmen family ambitious and taken up by the old man Mason; when they fail, she, 45 years younger than he, is bought by him. I’d go into her motives and what she must’ve felt: acceptance but also determination to be paid back and to have peace.

The years inbetween and now dissed by her son, at risk always, resented bitterly by the envious man Dockwrath (note his name) who actually comes from the same class she did. Her attempts for years to help the stupid and now craven Miriam (who Mary had told not to marry the mean bully Dockwrath, the power which allured her would be turned on herself). I would have a few letters from Miriam. Dockwrath has beaten her it’s clear and holds this up as a continual threat. He is endlessly impregnating her; he has devoured her so-to-speak.

Women’s friendship. What it means. Millais picked up on this on one of the most famous pictures he did: Mrs Orme and Mary Mason hugging when Mary Mason is forced out of the neighborhood. Has to go live quietly somewhere with that son. There’s an Edith Warton story: grim, but she would buck up I think as I envisage her. I see Trollope having endowed his heroine with his calm. Rich female conversations, everyone dissecting everyone else’s emotions, and trying to decide what it all meant. Themes to include: do what you want, not what you ought. Also her great friend Chaffanbrass: include him and that verdict.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. I was a bit late in reading your previous posting on this theme and never responded … but I do like the idea of these prequels focusing on the minor characters. I’d especially love to read your story about Jane Fairfax.

    But this is about Mary Bennet. Today and yesterday I’ve been re-watching the magnificent 1995 P&P (two episodes still to go), and reading your blog about it, and I have been wondering again about Mary, and Austen’s attitude to her. Most of Mary’s comments seem to me to be perfectly sensible – for instance, about her love of books, and not being too ready to condemn a fellow-creature before knowing the facts – yet she is mocked alongside Kitty and Lydia. That’s the case in the series, anyway – it’s a while since I last read P&P and I am wondering if the portrayal in the novel is more sympathetic. I don’t remember it being so.

    In the 1979 BBC series, Tessa Peake-Jones, a very talented actress, plays Mary as frankly a comic character – giving the impression that she is every bit as “silly” and flirtatious as her two younger sisters, and giving her a wicked energy. But, in this 1995 version, she is more serious, and I do wince for her when her music is ridiculed and she is repeatedly told to play dance tunes instead. It’s especially painful when her singing is so out of tune – ah, but at least she tries.

    In the more recent P&P film, Mary was made more sympathetic, with a more melancholy Mr Bennet appearing sympathetic instead of sarcastic. But I have a feeling this is not very close to Austen’s text, and that perhaps in Mary she was mocking and repudiating, or even being disloyal to, an aspect of herself.

    I am enjoying the 1995 film very much, but do have to cringe at the loudness and over-the-top quality of Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet. I don’t see the character being so obviously comic.

    Yours ramblingly,
    Judy    Jul 6, 4:12pm    #
  2. Dear Judy,

    I can’t say Austen’s portrayal of Mary Bennet is more sympathetic; rather she makes fun of her on different grounds. However, even though she presents Mary as mouthing platitudes she doesn’t understand, and some of those turned against women most, I think you put it well when you say “in Mary she was mocking and repudiating, or even being disloyal to, an aspect of herself.” As such, it’s painful.

    Davies goes further in cruelty. He and the BBC team made their Mary Bennet (Lucy Briers) much uglier than the other girls; gave her sallow skin, pock marks on her face, deliberately made her flat-chested and sour and envious all the time. It’s a man’s resentful caricature of the reading girl as someone who refuses sex (how dare she?). Austen doesn’t mock reading, but rather its misuse. The only excuse Davies gives Mary is her hurt from the superfluous insults of Lydia (Julia Sawalha). Davies’ Lydia is made much worse than Austen’s: needling Mary at every opportunity, openly rough and bullying, triumphing over her. Austen’s Lydia shows some nervous insecurity and she pretends her “perfect unconcern.” In Davies’ P&P, there is scant sympathy for any women but Elizabeth & Jane. Mrs Gardiner is insufficiently characterized, merely good-humored & self-effacing (what better woman could a man want?).

    I'm reading an excellent study of Andrew Davies' work by Sarah Cardwell and hope to write a posting on it soon. Cardwell says that for TV films, the screenplay writer is a much more important and powerful presence in the making of a film while in movies, the director is the central controlling force. So it is really a Davies' production. Cardwell says Davies often resorts to caricature, unnatural posturing (dreams and use of flashback for memory sequences). Perhaps needless to say, Cardwell is strongly pro-Davies and puts his work in the positive light; had she not made it clear she would, she would not have gotten to interview him.

    To return to all the P&P films, with the exception of Samantha Harker’s Jane (underestimated, she does a lot with silence and gesture and her eyes), I much prefer both Weldon and Moggach & Wright (the writer & director of the 2005 P&P) on the Bennet sisters -- and indeed all the women. While Weldon's Mary is not bright, she is not sour and some of her sayings are allowed to make sense. Her father jeers at her (as he also delights in making Kitty cry). The famous insult in public is made at the first party and it’s the mother who says it, and since few are paying attention it doesn’t matter that much. Her playing is also parelleled to Elizabeth’s and the mother persists in saying Elizabeth didn’t play that well either, so Mary’s becomes a kind of parody of Elizabeth’s (as both are romantic songs of maidens deserted, one plangent, one caterwauling).

    Moggach goes further and has Mary (Talulah Riley) play the piano and read for a genuine escape. Mary really finds the party awful, and her father feels for her.

    Honestly sometimes I prefer the way the women characters are sympathetically presented in the films to Austen’s. Austen is superfluously cruel to Anne de Bourgh; Weldon makes her Anne (Moir Leslie) a nervous awkward pathetic figure, someone humiliated by & unable to defend herself against her dense mother.

    On the other hand, I think Judy Parfitt (1979 P&P) the best of all the Lady Catherines. Her scene when she comes to Netherfeld is unbeatable. She is desperate, a woman come to fight for a man, and trying to win the battle with just the right amount of controlled obnoxiousness & bullying.

    On another tack: I find that I feel a real desire to write sequels in reaction to the films: they fill in Austen's outlines. They make me see Austen's characters in ways that make me want to make known as a literary characters these filmic differing re-creations of Austen's characters. I was noticing that in recent studies, whether it's admitted or not, literary critics and reviewers are responding to the actresses and different presentations as part of their interpretations of Austen's novels. There's nothing wrong with that if they do it in the spirit of having gotten more insight into Austen's characters, if only by contrast.

    Elinor    Jul 8, 12:06am    #
  3. Just quickly to say that I’ve now finished re-watching the 1995 series and have seen the scenes where Mary mouths the platitudes turned against women – acting as a female counterpart of Mr Collins in her lack of feeling. As you say, it’s painful. I do agree that she is made to seem unattractive and sour – she never seems to smile for a moment.

    Apart from Jane and Elizabeth, I feel in Davies' P&P there is at least some sympathy for Charlotte Lucas. She puts her case forcibly to Elizabeth about how she must marry to have a home, and then explains how she manages to make sure she is not alone with Mr Collins for long during the day. Ah, but what about the nights?

    I will really need to watch the Weldon version again to see the comparisons you point out – unfortunately, as soon as I watch one version, another slips out of my memory. I do think Rintoul and Firth are quite similar as Darcy, though, both with that silent smouldering quality we’ve talked about in the past.

    I look forward to reading your posting about the study of Davies by Sarah Cardwell.
    Judy    Jul 8, 3:14pm    #

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