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

Austen days & nights · 29 May 08

Dear Friends,

I find myself unable to read a simple novel tonight: in fact this is the third night I’ve sat over Atonement and at the end of an hour found that all I’ve done is drowsed and turned pages. I therefore conclude Ian McEwan writes the sort of novel I can’t read at night and tomorrow will try Margaret Forster’s Keeping the World Away. I find I can read Forster any time of day or night, tired or not; if my computer can’t reach the Internet tomorrow night still, I’ll write about her very great memoir, Precious Lives which I just finished reading, read straight through with great intensity, and got a lot out of.

My problem this evening is I also can’t reach any websites on my computer, and no mail will come in. I phoned Transbeam and an unusually kind man (he did not ask me a slew of questions I can’t answer) told me there is a general outage in my area, and even now as I type someone is actively trying to correct it as it is interfering with multiple servers. So I guess it’s time to write another blog—the server for the blog is on the floor on the other side of my workroom :).

Today was another day in a succession where the weather has been gorgeous. Except for one hot and humid day for well over a week now we’ve had sunny days where the air is dry, at its height in the afternoon the temperature in the low 70s, and the colors of everything—sky, plants, flowers, houses, rocks—brightly true. After early morning posting to lists and my friends, I went with Jim & Izzy to the gym, where I and she swam, & then to the post office to return a fault movie editing software package Jim had bought for her from Amazon. Early lunch, & I then continued work on my movies project until 6. I am almost through comparing 3 of my 5 film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility (the 1981 BBC S&S, 1995 Miramax S&S, and 2008 WBGH/BBC S&S); all hold my mind tight to them, and I love Austen’s S&S more than ever. The Austen films bring out things I never saw before; I see how rich in possibilities her meticulously nuanced perceptive prose is. I also kept up for my daily hour with my Palliser films: these continue to be a kind of relief or alternative movie, providing a distinctly different kind of matter.

Today I was again made aware of how in general closely similar in conception and structuring are the films made from S&S as a group (so too the films made from Pride and Prejudice); and how different the films made from MP, Emma, and NA, while the Persuasion films represent a sort of continuous development from one to the next in the area of brilliantly picturesque and sublime film-making enacting neurotic abjection. These trajectories will form one of the ongoing comparisons in that book (The Austen Movies is my dream title) I hope to begin to write when I finish thoroughly going through all 5 films (I have the 1971 BBC S&S now and the 2000 Tamil I Have Found It). Do you remember, gentle reader, that I’m going to begin by writing a chapter on the S&S films?

I have good news tonight. The woman, Laurel Ann, who manages and writes Austenprose suggested I partner her in reviewing the six new editions of Austen’s books being brought out by OxfordUP. She’ll have the Oxford people send me copies of each; she means to provide a ‘popular’ review and I’ll provide a more scholarly one. Each pair with form a sort of dyptich, and appear on Austenprose (linked in at the margin); I can put my contribution on this blog too. I’ve so enjoyed writing for her Ms. Place’s Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today (where they are cobloggers): my 3 NAs and Miss Austen Regrets essays look lovely; I gain more readership, reach more people literally too (they email me offblog). It seems this new bout of appearing on other sites than my own began with the appearance of my brief essay on the Jane Austen Centre magazine arguing that Austen’s aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot stole the lace, but that’s not a cause, just another manifestation of the renewed popularity of writing about or from Austen from the new spate of film adaptations these past two years.

Earlier today I was in a sufficiently strong and cheerful mood to tell myself maybe in October 2009 I’ll try for my very first JASNA meeting. I have to go alone as Jim cannot see himself going to such a conference, and in Oct 2009 they will be in Philadelphia. That’s not too far; I could take the train. I’d like at long last to give my paper on the recurrence of bad Tuesdays in 8 Austen’s novels (S&S, P&P, MP, Emma, Persuasion, Lady Susan, The Watsons—of the non-juvenilia serious fiction, only Catherine, or the Bower & NA does not show this curious pattern, with Sanditon is in too early a draft stage to say if it would have had bad Tuesdays). If not there, I could take it this spring 2009 to ASECS meeting in Richmond, Va.

These are Austen days for me. I find myself writing regularly on Austen-l and Janeites once again. I sent off a review of William Baker’s Critical Companion to Jane Austen, which will appear in the Intelligencer next month. I’m rereading her—nothing so satisfying as she. I read scholarly studies (when I can find the time during the day and brain-power at night), and after reviewing Mrs Darcy’s Dilemma, have read a good deal about sequels. I’ve put off my own idea for a sequel as such a new attempt for me would function to lead me once again to not write a book or long article after having done much reading and taking notes and thinking towards one.

I live with Austen day-by-day and now with my project and these movies nightly in dreams too, & it will probably not surprize the true Austenite to learn that I concentrate on those aspects of her personality that seem so close to my own. How she lived day-by-day by writing, writing, writing, and reading too. I loved how Laura Carroll wrote that the complete misunderstanding of Austen that the biopics present comes out most strikingly in their persistent representative of Austen as a compromiser. Insofar as her circumstances allowed (and in this way they were not bad), she compromised as little as possible. She had to be pressured into asking the Regent to be her patron after she was told His Majesty had “graciously” let it be known he was open to such a request. She hated doing that. There’s my woman.

I would provide a still or illustration, or try for a small description of some of the intelligent scenes in the Baron/Bennett ‘81 S&S, the beautiful and finely achieved art of the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson ‘95 S&S and the original bold things I find in the Davies/Pivcevic ‘08 S&S, but as my computer probably would not permit me to ftp any stills in and I’m not sure will even put this blog up tonight, I’ll end here. I’ve written this to tell any friends or readers what I’m doing, what I’m planning to put on the blog soon, and calm myself as I can’t read, am all alone, and cut off tonight—and it really is too late to watch another film.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Morning, 9:00 am, 5/30/08: Still no Internet connection. PPS. But as of 11 am, service back. Yay!
    Elinor    May 30, 8:55am    #
  2. The “old” bout: my calenders drawn from and underlying Austen’s novels (often called “timelines”) appear on the Republic of Pemberley, the Victorian Web, and the Jane Austen Center magazine. A number of my postings to Austen-l are also on the Republic of Pemberley.

    Elinor    May 30, 11:17am    #
  3. Dear Ellen,

    What’s different about the new eds. of Austen that OUP are doing? It seems to me that between the latest Penguin & Cambridge UP eds. the most important aspect of JA – the textual one – has been covered.

    Thank you!— Tom
    T. Wood    May 30, 9:01pm    #
  4. Dear Tom,

    It’s good to hear from you and I hope all is going well with you, your wife & son, & business, & you've been enjoying reading good books.

    On the new OUPs, the short answer is I don’t know what’s different or new about them. I don’t own any nor have I looked at them.

    The long answer is I’m going to learn. As I understand, there has been a movement to go back to Austen’s text “unimproved” by Chapman, but I’m not sure the Cambridge does this. I recall some acrimonious letters in TLS between Janet Todd and others over some decisions made about the Cambridge texts, but (as you say), the Cambridge texts are intimidating in their apparatus, variants and notes. I haven’t any sense of how the latest Penguins differ from the older ones. I use as my favorite texts the older Penguins and Chapman.

    For context, while individual editions vary, I usually find the Norton (individual editors sometimes have skewed agendas) and Broadviews (individual editors may skimp) the best, with Longmans (always thinner) providing cultural backgrounds.

    I agreed to do the project—it’s not arduous and it will give me a chance to look over a new set of texts and think about the issues involved. I will be putting my reviews on my blog and you can be sure I will be candid enough to evaluate them.

    Elinor    May 30, 10:25pm    #
  5. From Kathy C:

    “Congratulations on your Austen acceptances, reviews, editorships, etc. You’re such a graceful writer-you should do scholarship AND write an Austen sequel. I’ve certainly learned a lot about Austen from you and would never have reread Sense and Sensibility if not for your posts.

    We need some Ellen Moody fiction out there. There’s a glut of Austen in the market, but you could do so much better. There are more and more Austen mysteries every year: Jane becomes a detective, or or Elizabeth Bennett’s younger sister … And there’s some new book about a Jane Austen reader who goes back in time (I’m sorry I don’t remember the title, but I must have read a review somewhere).”
    Elinor    May 30, 10:34pm    #
  6. From Jill:

    “Dearest Ellen,

    What a thrill to be in an OUP edition of Austen, and what a coup! You must be thrilled! And talk about a fabulous way to get a wider readership!

    I have an idea: when you come to visit, bring as many of your Austen movies as you like, and we’ll have an Austen orgy!”
    Elinor    May 31, 12:07am    #
  7. From Judy:

    “Congratulations on being invited to review the new Oxford editions of
    the Austen books – how lovely. Your essays do look good on these
    websites and it is good that you are getting more readers as a result.”
    Elinor    May 31, 12:08am    #
  8. Dear Kathy and all,

    I wish I could do a sequel at the same time or write this book quicker. I am just so slow in reading and studying movies towards it. Now I’ve gotten my idea for a first chapter I’ll probably get to writing it later in summer. And that goes slow too—I revise and polish and revise again.

    It is very kind of you to say I could write fiction. I’ve never tried. I’d like to and now and then have tried a nugget on my blog (under the category BJones—as in Bridget Jones Diary), but nothing further. Well one time I did try but found I was writing out of my autobiography something so raw and grim it would appall others. So I destroyed what I had written.

    Twice in my teen years I did try sequels. I wrote a story about Ellen O’Hara (Gone with the Wind) and one imitation of Stevenson. I submitted “Ellen’s Story” (natch) to a contest when I was 13, and almost won. Third prize. Then when I left my first husband, I forgot it and he destroyed it. I wish I had it—if only to see what I did then. My father discouraged me on the Stevenson story.

    I’d like to fill in the minor characters in Austen, a story a piece and write sympathetically about some of the characters she sends up. Like Mary Bennet, Anne de Bourgh, Kitty Bennet. Maybe when I retire.

    Elinor    May 31, 12:21am    #
  9. Dear Ellen,

    Many thanks for yours. The latest Penguin eds of JA use the first edition texts for copy-texts and are, in my opinion, an improvement upon Chapman. Cambridge does not. As one who has read K. Sutherland’s latest you’ll know all about this. By the bye, I kept the TLSs with the exchanges between Janet Todd and Sutherland on this and related matters if you want a copy.

    T. Wood    May 31, 2:49pm    #
  10. Hi Ellen – I’ll look forward to reading your review of the new Oxford editions – I didn’t know they were coming out. The Austen market is very well supplied for texts at the moment!

    The rest of this comment is about the other recently published ambitious scholarly texts. First a few comments on the Cambridge editions: only S&S and MP use the second editions as copy texts. The other volumes all use the first editions. It was the Press’s decision to use the second editions for those two novels, not the editors of the individual novels’ decisions, and I don’t think it was the wrong decision by any means. It comes down to a set of considerations, properly open for debate, around whether to prefer the author’s first version or the final version that was published under her supervision. For MP and S&S there are serious disadvantages to the first editions which were printed hastily and carelessly and are full of typographic errors, misspellings etc, which means that the text is not wholly reliable. Between 2003 and 2005 I worked as John Wiltshire’s research assistant while he produced the new Cambridge edition of Mansfield Park. There are good arguments for 1814 and for 1816. (Chapman’s MP is based on the 1816 edition, which Austen corrected the proofs of.) The Cambridge edition does print all the variations between editions at the bottom of each page so ultimately it allows the reader to compare both versions and think about what the differences mean. If, or when, the Cambridge editions become available in paperback in the same market as the Norton, Broadview etc, a proper conversation can be had about their merits or otherwise. The biggest problem with them in my opinion is their appalling price.

    All that said I greatly admire Katherine Sutherland’s Penguin edition of Mansfield Park, which is based on the 1814 first edition, and I recommend it to students. As an editor she holds strong opinions about what Austen meant to write, which translate to somewhat speculative editorial decisions – she asserts that some of the more idiosyncratic punctuation of the first edition reflects Austen’s intention, when it may just as well be the result of hasty typesetting by the printers. But ultimately I think this is no different to what all editors do, and Sutherland has the great merit of being transparent in her decisions, and of having a good strong rationale for them. Some past editors have seemingly just chosen the reading they liked best.

    Sutherland in the TLS criticised the Cambridge edition of MP for failing to acknowledge its debt to Chapman’s Oxford edition. This made the edition look mean-spirited. I think it was a very questionable criticism: the edition does formally acknowledge Chapman’s precedent and ongoing influence, at the outset and many times in the notes and commentary, and of course everyone who worked on it had their idea of the novel formed by Chapman’s edition. At the same time, though, the adoption of the 1816 edition as the text doesn’t mean that every decision which followed was influenced by what Chapman had done. His solutions to textual problems were considered and taken into account, as were Sutherland’s, but no precedents were ever unthinkingly followed.
    Laura Carroll    Jun 1, 7:34pm    #
  11. Dear E,
    If I may, let’s thank Ms Carroll for her posted comment. I am surprised that given the large (?) number of Austen readers Cambridge did not price their new clothbound editions more reasonably. On the other hand perhaps the majority of these Austen readers are perfectly happy with whatever mass-market edition of the text comes to hand. In fact, most Austen readers probably rarely, if ever, use the word “text” the way some people do when talking about available… texts. These readers are not likely to plunk down $125. USD or more on the new Cambridge ed. in cloth. Paperback, maybe, but, still, maybe not.

    When will this comment ever end.

    T. Wood    Jun 1, 8:44pm    #
  12. Dear Tom,

    Yes, thank you, Laura, how fortunate you are to have worked with John Wiltshire and on this project. I feel that we get closest to our author when we edit a text. I’ve edited and worked with manuscript texts of Anne Finch (which I’ll speak of in a separate comment), and there’s nothing like it. Alas, in Austen’s case, we have only the manuscripts for those books which were not published in her lifetime (plus the two cancelled chapters and what’s left of her letters).

    I think I shall have to reread that portion of Sutherland’s JA’s Textual Lives to recall all the details of the different texts and am hoping her note in her new edition of MP sums up the case at least for MP. I have Gilson on my desk for any earlier articles on the issues. I do remember now (half-remember) that she did say that Chapman was not given enough credit. It may be it’s natural to emphasize what you’re changing so as to justify the new edition; however, I do recall in the case of Claudia Johnson she wrote somewhere in a way about Chapman that was more than a little mocking and resentful of him. She talked of "freeing" Austen from the grip of an aesthetic which was characterized as a form of sentimental kitsch. The books reflect 1920s taste, how a respectable book by a woman would be presented. Chapman’s not responsible for the way some Janeites read and respond to his editions. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had a century’s worth of dependable decent texts; he enabled Austenmania (though again he didn’t mean to).

    Tom, the price of these Cambridge books is scary. So too though the price of Ashgate scholarly books. Some of them may be used as reference books, but some are simply reads and cost over $100. I imagine they will eventually be reprinted in paperback much more cheaply. That’s what’s been happening individually to the Edinburgh editions of Scott.

    Elinor    Jun 2, 6:30am    #
  13. Offblog a friend asked me a fruitful question: “I was very interested in your Austen blog.” She wrote: “I have a Penguin edition of Wordsworth with intertextual/interfacing versions of The Prelude which are so different that it is frankly an irritant. Which to read? But the editor prefers the earlier version. And is that the one I read in college? Probably we had only one version.”

    I responded:

    “Your question is a good one: in the case of Wordsworth, he left a manuscript and we can tell what were his original intentions. The later Prelude was published many years later—after the earlier one. Wordsworth grew far more conservative so we can say there are two poems. The later Prelude has two more books.

    You say the editor of the book you have prefers the earlier text. In my work on Anne Finch I prefer the earliest texts because I know she censored them from the extant manuscripts. More of her work existed in manuscript than publication until the 20th century. She really did hurt her work when she went to publish it. One can also see that when a manuscript went into a publishing house, it was automatically changed. Printers added punctuation, put in Capitals, changed grammar. Her poems in manuscripts are lightly punctuated and with no Caps; her printed poems are given endless exclamation marks (as if the publisher feared the audience needed this) and semi-colons. So we can see that her text in manuscript is better; but we can also see the first editions are often not just hers, but partly the publisher. So this may be true of Austen’s and those who go back to the pre-Chapman early texts may be imitating the printer, not Austen.

    When I taught Wordsworth I assigned the very earliest edition of the Prelude: it was only two books and the simplest of them. Wordsworth was one of these people continually revising his work :). I’ve seen editions with the two full poems, earlier and later (10 and 12 books) placed facing one another. I agree such a book is really for minute study, for scholars, and one could end up puzzled and not enjoy reading the poem in the way Wordsworth intended us to. So the author’s intentions would be indeed be lost!

    Elinor    Jun 2, 6:36am    #
  14. A witty allusion to Lady Catherine de Bourgh in E. H. Young’s The Curate’s Wife,”a 1934 novel whose main characters are two sisters disillusioned in love. The elderly vicar’s wife, who not only dislikes s the Dahlia, the curate’s witty young wife, but loathes her attractive sister, Jenny, demands that Jenny give up her son, Reginald. (She would “bring him down” because of class.)

    “I knew someone else had said these things. It was Lady Catherine de Burgh.”

    “I don’t know her.:

    “Don’t you?” Jenny’s surprise seemed to indicate some lack in Mrs. Doubleday, who condescended to inquire whether the lady lived in Herefordshire.

    “Herefordshire?”...No, not Herefordshire. Kent.”

    Mrs. Doubleday was puzzled. These girls were claiming important friends and relatives all over the country. “Well,” she said doubtfully, “I know nothing about her, but she must be a practical, straightforward woman and as you have had my own advice from her, I shall say no more….Is she a friend of yours?”
    Elinor    Jun 4, 11:37pm    #
  15. Hi ,
    Really interesting and in depth blog. Have you ever managed a visit to Jane Austen's house here in Hampshire in the UK?
    Tod Dorset    Jun 17, 6:40am    #

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