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

An Austen Miscellany; The Gothic Northanger Abbey: A Re-evaluation · 16 November 08

Dear Friends,

I’ve made a new page on my website for Austen: this consists of essays and reviews on her and her work that I’ve written on this blog, of conference papers, of reviews and essays published in hard copy and on other Net sites (e.g, Jane Austen Center and Jane Austen’s World). I’ve gathered many of my essays on “The Austen Films” too. I’ve accompanied all this with four photos of houses associated with Austen (Steventon, Chawton, Dean House, Ashe House), and called it:

An Austen Miscellany

People have told me the search engine on this blog is wholly inadequate, and I know it’s awful. I can’t find my own blogs sometimes. Also I had been adding the published pieces to my Time in Austen: this is a section of my website originally intended to be a study of Austen’s calendars, use of time, Bad Tuesdays, and a chronology of her work. It had become loaded down with material on other topics. So I thought it was more than time for a new section and to put all the things that didn’t belong to “time” and “calendars” into a miscellany.

Among other things I wanted to place my recent paper “The Gothic Northanger Abbey: A Re-evaluation” (in Conference Papers) with my Austen matter and couldn’t tell where to put it. Now it has a place. If you scroll down An Austen Miscellany, you’ll see “The Gothic Northanger Abbey” under Literary Criticism. Like several of the pieces, it’s both literary and filmic criticism (the section on recent editions of Austen contains much about the film adaptations). Some though are wholly on film or more on film and they are under the “Austen movies” section.

I announced this new section on several listservs I’m on in an attempt to reach as many people who might be interested as possible. It’s my form of publication :) The Admiral has (as you can see) made a link to it on the right-hand column of this blog.

And I’ve begun work on the last of the intended six diptych reviews of the latest Oxford editions of Austen, this one on Persuasion.

Portrait of Mrs Jess Wolff by John Downman (detail)


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. From Diana:

    “I must thank Ellen for pointing out afresh her Austen essays on her blog. I’ve just been having a most enjoyable Ellen-binge, which I heartily recommend. First I read and enjoyed her NA paper, which is so full of insights like this one:

    And here is a wonderful sentence: < A fluctuating sparkling wand plays over this text's gothic picturesque. >

    Good observation: < The felt ferocity of Austen's General has often been remarked upon; it is not emphasized how our memory of him is shaped by his treatment of his daughter.>

    I’m less interested when the paper wanders off into the movies, as it’s my belief that nothing after Austen, and certainly not movies which are merely modern people’s responses to her, can tell us anything about the books. However, Ellen certainly develops the subject richly; mine is a minority view, and her film book will be very successful, I believe.

    But even better than the NA essay, is her fantastic Jane Austen Among French Women paper. How is it that I haven’t read it – or perhaps I did back then, and have forgotten how good it is. Here Ellen shows her great gift for synthesis, her wide, wide reading pulled together to explain brilliantly and succinctly exactly where JA fit in among French and other women authors. I especially love the observations:

    < Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the harridans who humiliate young women in Austen's fiction, and recur from Austen's juvenilia through to Sanditon are not simply the result of personally-rooted memories >


    < In those few cases where references to other texts result from a conscious act of Austen’s, most of them are fragments remembered whose original context has been dismissed or long forgotten. Austen’s way of using these fragments suggests that she read in terms of larger trends and, like most readers, reacted to texts in the stereotypical terms of her era. Even when Austen uses such analogues or literary references somewhat consistently, we can learn nothing new for sure since we lack usable statements by Austen herself about her art.>

    and most of all:

    < I also want to make the point that the strict separation we practice today between a translation and the “original,” between texts written by people living in one country and culture as opposed to those written by people in another, and the attention we pay to the individuating presence of a particular author in a work was not part of the outlook of later 18th century readers or writers of romance. They saw novels as malleable items in a community of texts whose most salient characteristic was their likeness and near exchangeability across time and space.>

    These thoughts, and others, have helped me think of Austen in more of an European 18th century context, and they build intelligently on the works and research of a formidable array of writers.

    Elinor    Nov 16, 11:44pm    #
  2. From Judy:

    “Congratulations to Ellen on putting up the paper about Northanger Abbey at your site – it is beautifully presented with all the stills, and full of interest. I love the idea of Austen refusing readers the option to choose between the satirical and the Gothic, but giving them both ways of seeing at once.”
    Elinor    Nov 17, 11:01am    #
  3. From Clare:

    “Ellen, you’ve improved the site. Excellent. I agree about the search engine; however, the site is a real resource for those with curious minds, in a literary way. It was a pleasure to see the paper as given, and to read again.

    Elinor    Nov 17, 12:59pm    #
  4. From Kathy:

    “Dear Ellen,

    I read your blog on Northanger Abbey: the only Jane Austen novel I’ve read only once. It’s my least favorite, but your blog makes me want to read it again.”
    Elinor    Nov 17, 9:18pm    #
  5. I am grateful for all the kind comments.

    Sometimes I think to myself I ought to publicize more the way I’m treated as an adjunct; only then would people know I’m not in danger of a swelled head. I got my schedule for the spring. I asked could I have a repeat of my present schedule or be given two nights one class each (2 hours and 40 minutes). I was ignored. I return to Nat Sci and begin at 7:30 am twice a week. Now the class may be under-registered and thus cancellled.

    The good news is I will finish by noon on the two days and will find parking easy. The bad news if both fly is I’ll exhaust myself two nights staying up to midnight so I might have 5 and 1/2 hours of sleep in a row (I can’t sleep more than 5 hours or so) and collapse on the two further nights on the days I teach.


    11/18/08: A reprieve! my sections have been changed and I am teaching 302N at night, each section meeting once at week at 7:20-10:00 pm, one on Tuesdays and the other Thursdays.

    Elinor    Nov 17, 9:42pm    #
  6. George S writes:

    “One way around site specific search engines is to use Google, or other search engines, with the “site:” option. I don’t believe Google documents this anymore but it still works. Most major search engines have similar functions.

    You can enter any valid Google search, with quotes, parentheses, ands and ors and follow it with “site:jimandellen.org/austen/” without the quotes, and Google will return only pages that match the search, and fall withing the specified sub site. Without “austen/” the entire site would be searched. I don’t believe I ever use site specific search engines. You can also preface an option with a minus sign, and everything except that specified will be searched.

    There are three drawbacks. 1) This will not work on any site that requires a login, i.e., only public material can be searched this way. 2) If the site is not indexed frequently by the search engine, the searches my be out of date. 3) If a site is narrowly focused, the searches need to carefully constructed or you may get most of the site.”

    In reply:

    Yes. The way to search this blog is go to google, type in site:moody.cx and then in quotes whatever term you think will turn up the blog. There is no login needed; our site appears to be frequently indexed.

    Elinor    Nov 17, 9:46pm    #
  7. From Arthur Weitzman:

    “Dear Ellen Moody,

    Last week in my Austen class, we analyzed a film version of Persuasion produced by Granada in 1971. The question came up because of its seemingly theatrical style and drawing-room visuals that this adaptation may have originated on the London stage. Do you have information that would reveal how this stylized Persuasion came into existence? Anne Firbank played Anne Elliot—a strong performance and very British.

    Arthur J. Weitzman”
    Elinor    Nov 18, 6:18am    #
  8. In response to Arthur J. Weitzman, the short answer is no, partly because there were no books made at the time called The Making of &. This kind of information is available for the 95 P&P and 96 Emma because Sue Conklin and Sue Birtwistle produced books. Also recent features on DVDs can get a costume designer to talk (Jenny Bevan did many of the more recent costume designers; the production designer for the Merchant-Ivory films is often the name you find in production design for the BBC). But there is none on the DVD of the 71 S&S or 71 Persuasion (the hairdoes are closely similar). Go to IMDB and you find costume design for the 71 Persuasion is Esther Dean; 71 S&S costume design is Charles Knode.

    The longer one is about the problems of finding the sort of information you want. Unfortunately for someone interested in a genuinely scholarly or academic way in these films, most published (or just about all) books on the subject are aimed at teaching Austen and talk of film as aids to teaching. They go into filmic qualities but from this skewed point of view. They also reflect more recent taste, so for example, the brilliant 1983 MP is just ignored in Louise Flavin’s JA in the Classroom; and the 1971 S&S (to be fair only available on DVD recently), 1971 Persuasion, 1983 S&S are ignored. The two older films treated are the 1972 Emma (thought rightly very well of) and the 1979 P&P; but again not from the commercial and truly making standpoint (though there is a full study of the 1972 Emma worth looking into: you probably have the reference; to refer to your question, the 1972 Emma is the first one to drop these ornate hair-dos and have the women actresses’s hairdos look like something of what we know hair-dos at the time did—this well before historical accuracy of this kind in the other films—Monica Lauritzen’s Jane Austen’s Emma on Television) The one exception is Sue Parrill’s Jane Austen on Film and Television, but her text goes into these films as if they were pristine texts which just are there. She has brief mentions of the companies, and full cast and company lists, but no more than that. I bring her up though because she also has a thorough bibliography.

    The places to begin to look nowadays are single article studies on specific movies (which often lack this kind of information and used to be comparisons of tilms with source texts as if the films came directly from Austen as the central source text); the more recent studies of British Television films where for the first time you begin to get hard information about who made what, and who came to what decisions, though here again it’s usually general. One example of this sort of thing is the first 2/3s of Andrew Higson’s English Heritage, English Cinema (he doesn’t go over the Austen films except when they were made for cinema outlets and as deals made). Another is the short book, On television by Stuart Hood and Thalia Tabary-Peterson. Sarah Cardwell’s book on Andrew Davies gives you in passing some of this on any movie connected to him, and her Adaptation Revisted on the movies she goes over (she studies mini-series). As to fashion, there’s Pam Cook’s Fashioning the Nation about earlier costume drama—not to be ignored as I really thought the recent Duchess took some of the costuming and wigs and hats from the kind of thing one sees in the older 1940s Gainsborough movie products. Keira Knightley’s hair looked like a combination of modern “big hair” and lots of it with these older hairdoes which are modelled on Gainsborough (luxurious and elaborated).

    For what it’s worth (great phrase, that), the hairdoes of the 1971 Persuasion are slightly less built up versions of the hairdoes in the 1971 S&S—both BBC products. While both are comedies of manners, though the 71 done on location (one must have the Cobb and Bath and some countryside for the walk), the hairdoes do remind me of the cover illustration of the most recent Oxford edition of Persuasion_: Portrait of Mrs Jess Wolff by John Downman. Look at the picture of that woman’s hair (the one looking to the side):


    They are elaborate versions of that. I think they reflect 1960s hairdos combined with the sort of thing one sees in Downman. Anne Hollander says (rightly) that these movies all combine contemporary hairsdoes (the years the film is made) with some outline or ideal memory of hairdoes in the given period. You can see that in the recent group (2005-7): the unformal hairdoes of today combine with the hairdoes of the 1790s. The exceptions are actresses where apparently the decision is made just to ignore whatever are the fashions and give her a hairdo she looks good in (Jackie Smith-Wood in the 1983 MP just has a hairdo which suited her).

    Elinor    Nov 18, 6:19am    #
  9. Additions to cited books: Oxford Television Studies like Television Drama, Realism, Modernism and British Culture; the final chapter is on the serial drama of “high quality.” It has a good bibliography—with commercial information of who did what and why (often for reasons of money and seeking popularity or a specific niche audience).

    Jane Austen movies are still most of them made for TV movies. The irony is they are at the same time regarded as elite products (and therefore read simply as conservative) and despised for being TV programs and feminine (soap opera aesthetics). Attitudes are changing at a glacial pace, e.g., the recent good essay by Claire Hunt defending these dramas is a rare instance: “The British Heritage film and its critics,” Critical Survey, 7:2 (1995):116-24.

    It’s said a new BBC Emma is on the way; the first mini-series since 1972, to be scripted by Sandy Welch—a wonderful screenplay writer who wrote the recent mini-series North and South, Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre.

    Elinor    Nov 18, 6:19am    #
  10. From Jill:

    “I did read all the links, and I do like the paper. It was enjoyable reading about the movie we watched together, Ruby in Paradise”. That was a good movie … ”
    Elinor    Nov 19, 11:23am    #

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