My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part II

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Part II – Chapters 15 – End

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

In Bath, Anne is reunited with her father, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. She is dismayed to see that Mrs. Clay remains with them and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. She’s also clearly risen in the estimation of Sir Walter who comments much less on her freckled face. In other developments, she hears that Mr. Elliot is also in Bath and has completely reconciled with the family who are all delighted with him. Anne is confused by his sudden interest in being on good terms with people he’s ignored for years, but, upon meeting with him again, can’t help but acknowledge that he is quite charming. He also is delighted to discover that Anne is the very woman he was so interested in when in Lyme, and he quickly becomes a frequent visitor of hers. Lady Russell begins to hope for an eventual union between the two.

While in Bath, Anne reconnects with an old school friend who has fallen on hard times. Widowed and ill with very little money, Mrs. Smith is practically bed-ridden but still presents a optimistic face to the world and is a breath of fresh air to Anne in her reasonableness. Mrs. Smith is also a good source of information, as her nurse seems to know the goings-on of everyone in the city.

Eventually, Anne hears news of the Musgroves. Louisa is mostly recovered, and in a shocking turn of events, has become engaged to Benwick. Anne can’t imagine a bigger mismatch, but is also extremely relieved and happy to know that Captain Wentworth is still single, even if it means nothing to her, practically speaking. One by one, various parties begin making their way to Bath as well. First the Crofts come, followed shortly by Captain Wentworth himself.

Anne runs into him unexpectedly in a shop where she is waiting for Mr. Elliot to escort her home through the rain. She immediately notices that Captain Wentworth seems much more self-conscious and uncomfortable. They have a brief discussion about Louisa and Benwick in which Captain Wentworth makes some surprising (and pleasing) speeches about how first loves to superior women can never be gotten over, that Louisa is sweet, but nothing to Benwick’s first fiancé. Anne is confused but pleased, seeing hints that he may be talking about more than Benwick and Louisa and more of himself and her. Mr. Elliot arrives, however, and whisks her away.

They meet again at a music concert where Anne goes out of her way to approach Captain Wentworth. Her family publicly shuns him however, not acknowledging that they know him. He seems more stilted than he had in the shop, though Anne makes efforts throughout the night to make herself approachable. She isn’t helped by Mr. Elliot who continues to try to dominate her time and attention.

Soon after, she is called to visit Mrs. Smith. At first, Mrs. Smith is eager praise Mr. Elliot, hinting that she has a favor she’d ask Anne to speak to him about. Anne is bewildered to learn that it is generally understood that she will soon become engaged to Mr. Elliot. She insists to Mrs. Smith that it isn’t so. Mrs. Smith then lays out her true feelings about Mr. Elliot. Not only did he lead Mrs. Smith’s late husband into ruin, but he wrote and spoke horribly of the Elliots the entire time. Mrs. Smith believes that he is only now making an effort because he has suddenly learned to value the rank that will be bestowed on him with Sir Walter’s death and fears any upsets in the form of Mrs. Clay getting her claws in Sir Walter and providing an alternative heir. For her part, Mrs. Smith’s own finances are largely in ruin because a piece of property her husband owned is not accessible to her without the executor of her husband’s will, Mr. Elliot, who so far has refused to even speak to Mrs. Smith about it. Anne is horrified to learn all of this, but also not completely surprised as she never fully trusted Mr. Elliot’s strange motives to reconcile with her family.

The Musgroves also come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta. This causes concern for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as they aren’t very proud of Mary’s lower connections. One morning, Anne goes to visit the Crofts where she finds Captain Wentworth as well as Captain Harville. Captain Wentworth sits down to write a letter while Anne and Captain Harville stand nearby. The two get into a debate about lost love and men and women. Anne insists that women love longest, when all other hope is lost. Captain Harville points to poetry and books as proof of women’s fickleness but Anne argues that those are all written by men. Throughout this discussion, she gets the sense that Captain Wentworth is eagerly listening. Eventually, the party begins to break up and everyone leaves the room while Anne waits behind. Captain Wentworth rushes back in and quickly passes off a letter to Anne.

The letter is a proclamation of love, love that has lasted this entire time. He confesses to being angry and proud, and that he confused this anger for no longer being attached. But that he came to see that she was the most superior woman he has ever known, and can’t go on any longer, especially not hearing her discuss how men’s feelings fade faster. He goes on to say that he will come to a dinner at her family’s house to which he’s been invited and there, all it will take is a look from her to have his answer one way or another.

Mr. Musgrove returns to walk Anne back home. On the way, they meet with Captain Wentworth. Mr. Musgrove asks if Wentworth can take her the rest of the way as he has business elsewhere. The two walk together and confess their feelings for each other. Over the next few days, the news is broken to the family and to Lady Russell. Anne’s family now sees more value in Captain Wentworth since he’s made is fortune and has become popular in society. Lady Russell also is more determined to like him. He also intercedes on Mrs. Smith’s behalf and sees her land restored to her and her financial situation made right. For his part, Mr. Elliot runs of to London with Mrs. Clay: his best bet of preventing a marriage between her and Sir Walter is to take her on himself, though Anne suspects she may have the right of him and become mistress of Sir Walter’s home and fortune one way or another, through the father or the nephew heir.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Anne really comes into her own in this second half. She stands up to everyone around her to some degree or another and makes an effort to put herself forward to Captain Wentworth in a way that likely encouraged him to act more quickly than he would have on his own. She’s also the only one to continuously suspect Mr. Elliot’s sudden interest in her family.

To her family, she refuses to give up her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith, standing her ground in the face of her father’s anger. She also doesn’t worry about their disapproval when she approaches Captain Wentworth at the concert. For Lady Russell’s part, Anne is briefly tempted by her paintings of a life with Mr. Elliott, but she also points out her concerns with him and is not swayed by her overly much.

As for Captain Wentworth, though it’s not stated in the text explicitly, one has to imagine the near miss with Louisa inspired Anne somewhat to put herself more forward. The fact that, when they first meet when waiting out the rain, he is so clearly more discomposed than he was before, of course helps. And then makes that interesting speech about past loves. But Anne doesn’t let it rest there and goes out of her way to speak to him at the concert and to maneuver her seating arrangement to be more available to be approached (I think most of women can sympathize with tactics like this!)

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I really like that we get so much information on Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and feelings here in the end. Throughout the book, not only does he not speak to Anne directly often at all, we really hear very little from him. We hear a lot about him, but not directly from him. Like Anne, we’re left trying to piece together what his actions reflect about his inner emotions.

But here at the end, not only do we get his entire letter detailing his emotions throughout, but Austen goes into even more detail later about what he’s been up to while Anne has been in Bath. Captain Wentworth admits that his pride almost got the better of him in the end. He let himself be too free with Louisa Musgrove in an attempt to prove (mostly to himself, one has to think) that he was over Anne. Not only did this leave Anne open to being poached by the likes of Mr. Elliot (as he began to see and worry about at Lyme), but he comes to realize that his actions almost spoke for him, with an engagement being expected to the point of it being dishonorable if he didn’t. We hear about how he took himself away in the hopes to weaken the connection and then set off for Bath once it was clear he as free.

But all of that, still, and he was almost set back again by the such a small thing as a meeting or two’s worth of jealousy over Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth is clearly an honorable, good man, but I think it’s pretty clear that Anne will be the more steady, sure-footed of the two. Wentworth is, to some extent at least, ruled by the emotion of the moment. Not only did he not spend the time to work out Anne’s true motives at 19 (something that was definitely possible if he hadn’t been brooding and resentful), but he continued to let his emotions get the better of him even after he had the fortune her family wanted. One has to assume that when she turned him down she gave some explanation. He admits, here at the end, that he did them both a disservice by giving in to resentment all of these years and losing them both much happiness in the meantime.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Mr. Elliot is revealed to be the true villain of this story. It’s not such a shock as Anne, like Fanny, is firmly established at this point as the best judge of character in the book, and she’s always skeptical of Mr. Elliot’s motives. But, in a strange twist, his true villainy is really directed at any of our main characters. Instead, poor Mrs. Smith seems to be the one who suffers the most. Sure, Sir Walter gets some insults thrown at him in a letter and Elizabeth didn’t come off super well in that initial flirtation, but really, neither of them have it too bad. Sir Walter largely deserves criticism and isn’t ever made aware of the letter, and Elizabeth’s ego seems fine too. But poor Mrs. Smith! Not only to have her husband lead astray throughout the marriage, but then to be fooled by Mr. Elliot into thinking he was their friend altogether and have him abandon her in her time of need after her husband’s death!

As for the current circumstances, Mr. Elliot seems to be genuinely interested in Anne to some degree (as much as he is capable of at least). And his abandonment of the family once again is probably not any bigger of a shock the second go-around. Indeed, one would think that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be more hurt by Mrs. Clay’s defection than anyone’s! And, in the end, it kind of seems like these two deserve each other and no real harm is done to anyone, especially after Captain Wentworth and Anne can help restore Mrs. Smith.

For her part, we see Lady Russell and Anne’s family come around on Captain Wentworth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth will probably always be a trial, but it seems like there is hope that with a concentrated effort on both Lady Russell’s and Captain Wentworth’s part, that they will get along well enough in the end. They both love Anne, which is what they have going for them.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

This second half of the book is much more romantic than the first. It’s clear to the reader (and even Anne pretty quickly) that Wentworth has finally come to his senses and gotten over himself and is interested in re-connecting. He, himself, attributes it to noticing Mr. Elliot stare at Anne at Lyme and realizing that he could still lose her if he continues playing games. That, and the fact that he realizes that he is seen as half-engaged to Louisa already and only narrowly misses that bullet by the lucky chance of Benwick interceding.

His speech about Harville’s sister, Louisa, and Benwick’s change in attachment is pretty revealing, and it’s a credit to Anne that she understands him fully. None of this silly drama of miscommunication. She’s picking up what he’s laying down. Instead, any remaining drama comes from him when he gets jealous of Mr. Elliot and becomes cold again at the musical concert. Anne has to make a lot of effort there to engage him and then it still doesn’t seem like he was going to take any action soon until he overheard her conversation with Captain Harville while writing the letter. I think the general understanding is that they would have gotten there eventually, though, either way. But it’s nice to see Anne putting out this much effort to encourage him, proving to him that she is just as capable as pursuing what she wants as others, even if she is still very humble and willing to put others before herself.

We again don’t see the actual proposal or exchange of declarations of love between the two, a staple move of Austen’s at this point. But I think that Captain Wentworth’s letter probably goes down as the most romantic “speech” we have in all of Austen’s works. Darcy has his moments, yes, but the letter wins over by sheer length. It’s the longest and most extensive declaration of feelings that we see from any of our heroes. And, not only does Anne deserve this level of romance, but us readers do, too! If you look at the book as a whole, we probably have the least dialogue between our hero and heroine as we’ve seen in all the books. And probably by a lot, at that! So it’s nice to finally have this nice, long love letter at the end to shore up all those romantic pinings.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Again, not a lot of comedy in this second half. Most of the humor probably comes from how obsequious Sir Walter and Elizabeth are towards the Dalrymples when they come to town. Anne looks on with pity at their antics, and in a shared moment, she and Mr. Elliot discuss the lack of true interest these high and mighty relatives deserve based on their own merit. There are some good lines about the definition of “good company,” but here we also see the first ideas of Mr. Elliot caring more for rank than Anne does or than he had previously in life.

Really, other than that I can’t think of any comedy bits. The Musgroves show up and Mary has a few funny lines here and there, mostly at Anne’s expense (that see, Benwick is marrying Louisa, of course he was never interested in Anne!) We also see Sir Walter and Elizabeth having to properly balance their obsession with keeping up a good face for the Dalrymples but still include these lesser relatives they have through Mary’s marriage to the Musgroves. No need to acknowledge the fact that the Musgroves are much nicer, more entertaining people on the whole!

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

This good one from Anne in the discussion about loving longest between men or women:

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

And, of course, the classic romantic line from this book. I’m pretty sure this line would still work today. If some man said “you piece my soul” to you…c’mon, we’d all fall for that.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Persuasion” is probably the book that’s went through the biggest change in my estimation as a reader from the first time I read to my re-reads as an adult. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” were always favorites. “Mansfield Park” was always a bit more of a struggle and “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” were always solidly in the middle. “Persuasion” originally was lower down. The lack of interaction between the romantic characters was a detriment, and, on the face of things, Anne had similarities to Fanny as being a bit too reserved and shrinking to immediately appeal to my teenage self. But as an adult, it’s risen to be one of my favorites, pretty much equal with with “Pride and Prejudice” and maybe even above “Emma.”

I don’t think this change is even all that surprising. Anne is an older, more mature heroine, and much of her story surrounds the changes in her perspective on life and love that has come through a decade of adult life. Without having gone through my 20s myself when I originally read it, I didn’t really connect to this arc in the same way I do now. Beyond that, the story of lasting love over a decade of separation now appears as the most romantic of all the romances we’ve seen in the books. Having gone through the ups and downs of romantic pitfalls, false starts, etc., this sure, steady love appeals in a way I couldn’t understand when first reading it.

It’s also probably the most serious of Austen’s books other than “Mansfield Park.” But I think, overall, this one feels much more settled in its overall tone. “Mansfield Park” had odd breaks in the “action,” for lack of a better word, to hear long speeches from various characters on topics that weren’t directly tied to anything outwards of themselves.

For another thing, this book is shorter which I think works better for this type of more serious story. Anne is also a more engaging heroine than Fanny is, which helps carry the story. Not to mention that Captain Wentworth is a more romantic hero than Edmund. Unlike Edmund, his flirtation with Louisa is pretty obviously a shallow, reactionary thing from the very start. We don’t get any silly proclamations of “not imagining any other woman as his wife” either. Instead, much better, we have grand romantic statements of Wentworth’s having loved “none but her.” Much more appealing.

Overall, this was a great book to end this re-read on. I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting it, and it didn’t let me down. Now for reviews of two movie adaptations and, I think, a last “bonus” review of a few other Austen adaptations/spin-offs that didn’t directly fit into the review series as I had it originally planned.

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part I

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

“Persuasion” was the last novel Jane Austen completed before her death only a few short months later. At the time of its completion, it didn’t appear as if Austen had any immediate plans for publication. The book had already went through one re-write where she added two additional chapters to the end of the story. She could have been considering further edits to the entire work before moving forward with publication.

After her death, the copyright for her published works was transferred to her sister and her brother. Her brother worked to have both “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” published after her death. Notably, the set of books also included a biography of the author written by Austen’s brother which first identified Jane Austen by name. Looking at many of the initial reviews of both “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” it is clear that reviewers were just as focused on the revelation of the author of these books as in the books themselves. Both books garnered praise and some critiques, but many reviews spent much of their time writing glowing praise of Austen herself as an author would remain popular in the future. They were right. (source)

“You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me.”

Part I – Chapters 1 – 14

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot. Having lost his practical and more sensible wife when Anne was a teenager, Sir Walter has gone on to slowly but surely run his family into unsustainable debt. He and his eldest daughter, vain and thinking much of themselves, are finally convinced to let their house to and Admiral Croft and re-locate to Bath. This news is significant to the 27-year-0ld Anne due to a past connection to the Admiral’s wife’s brother, Captain Wentworth.

When Anne was 19, she formed a mutually strong and loving relationship with Captain Wentworth. But at this point, Captain Wentworth’s prospects were questionable and he wouldn’t be able to marry immediately or, possibly, even in the near future. Given her youth, her family’s position, and Wentworth’s questionable prospects, Anne’s family and the family friend (Lady Russell) who had often served as a mother-figure to Anne, strongly opposed the union. Eventually, Anne was persuaded to believe that it was her duty to give up the engagement. Wentworth left, hurt and angry. Over the years, Anne followed his career through the papers and saw him garner all the success any of her family could have wanted, and more quickly than any of them could have imagined. She never heard from him, however. Now, at age 27, Anne’s prospects are low, and while she doesn’t blame her younger self for her decisions, she knows that now, if asked, she would give very different advice to a young person.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to Bath (taking with them a companion for Elizabeth, a widow named Mrs. Clay whom both Lady Russell and Anne suspect of having designs on Sir Walter). But Anne, who dislikes Bath, is called to stay with her younger sister, Mary, who lives nearby. Mary is a silly woman who often believes herself to be ill in an attempt to gain attention. However, she’s happy to have Anne’s company. Mary’s husband’s parents and their two daughters, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, live a short walk away and often come to visit Anne and Mary. Soon enough, the news travels that the Crofts have moved in and Mrs. Croft’s brother, Captain Wentworth is expected shortly. Anne is able to avoid a first meeting by staying home to care for Mary’s injured son, but she soon hears more than enough: everyone is enchanted by Captain Wentworth, particularly Louisa and Henrietta.

Eventually the two are forced to meet again. It is clear to Anne that Captain Wentworth has not forgiven her and is cold and distant. His attention is all for the two Musgrove girls, and everyone spends much time debating which of the two he prefers. Anne finds all of these meetings and discussions very painful, as she sees the same man she fell in love with all those years ago. The debate between the two girls comes to a head with the return of a cousin who had previously made much headway with securing Henrietta’s affection.

One day, a large party forms to make their way to the house of this cousin. It consists of Anne, Mary and her husband, the two Musgrove girls, and Captain Wentworth. The walk is long and tiring, so when they get to the cousin’s house, Anne is happy to stay behind with part of the group as Henrietta and her brother go on to visit. While sitting quietly, she is able to hear Captain Wentworth and Louisa talking nearby. Louisa is sharing a history of her family, that originally Mary’s husband had wanted to marry Anne, but Anne had refused him, presumably due to Lady Russell’s persuasion. Captain Wentworth is surprised, but he expresses high praise of Louisa’s insistence that her character is much more firm and she should never be persuaded out of doing what she liked. Anne is greatly hurt by this discussion, seeing it the way Captain Wentworth must: that Anne is of weak character and that Louisa is a highly desirable woman who has the very trait he has just expressed such praise of.

On the way back, Anne becomes increasingly tired. When they run across the Crofts who are out on a buggy ride, Captain Wentworth makes an effort to ensure that Anne has a ride home. Anne sees that while he can never forgive her, he also can’t forget their history and let her suffer. She is gratified, but even more sad at her loss of such a good man.

The group then decides to make a mini trip to Lyme, a coastal town where Captain Wentworth has a few friends from the Navy. Once there, they are all delighted with the town, even if it is the fall and the off-season. They meet up with Captain Wentworth’s friends, which includes a man named James Benwick who is staying with a Captain Harville as he mourns the loss of his fiance, Captain Harville’s sister. Anne goes out of her way to talk to Benwick. They both enjoy reading, though Anne suspects that Benwick’s love of morose poetry is not helping him boulster his spirits. While out on a walk by the ocean, they pass by another gentleman who is quite obviously struck by Anne’s beauty. Captain Wentworth takes notices, and Anne wonders if perhaps she’ll have a second bloom of beauty later in life.

The next morning, on her way to breakfast, Anne runs into the same gentleman at the inn. Later, the party sees him driving off and asks about him. It turns out to be William Elliott, the nephew of Sir Walter who will be the heir of the estate. He had a falling out with Sir Walter years before after marrying a lower-class lady for her money and cutting off contact with the Elliots, including Elizabeth whom Sir Walter had hoped would marry Mr. Elliot.

Before they leave, they group takes one last walk down to the beach. They must descend a steep set of stairs to reach the beach, and Louisa insists on being jumped down by Captain Wentworth. After one go, she runs back up even higher and insists on jumping again. Captain Wentworth protests that it is too high but she won’t listen and jumps. She falls and hits her head hard on the ground, knocking her out. The entire party goes into hysterics, except for Anne who quickly instructs someone to fetch a doctor and that they should carry Louisa to the the nearby house of the Harvilles. Once there, she continues her steady nursing abilities.

She overhears Captain Wentworth and Mr. Musgrove making plans. Captain Wentworth suggests that Anne stay behind as she is clearly the most capable nurse that Louisa could hope for. When hearing this plan, however, Mary falls into fits insisting that she means more to Louisa than Anne so she should be the one to stay. Anne relents in the face of this fit and Captain Wentworth looks on in dismay. He, Anne, and Henrietta return home to inform Louisa’s parents of what has happened since it is likely that Louisa will need to remain in Lyme for some time to recover. Anne does what she can to help, but eventually must make her way to Bath to meet up again with her father and older sister.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

As Jane Austen herself stated in the quote I shared above, Anne Elliot is almost too good of a character. She’s practically perfect in every way. Sure, she’s persuaded into giving up her love at age 19, but as this first half goes out of its way to establish, this is due to an excess of familial loyalty and a sense of obligation to put others before herself. But unlike Fanny, one of Austen’s other seemingly “perfect” heroines, Anne is not sunk under this sense of obligation and duty. She’s still confident enough to put herself forward when she sees that she can help, watching over her injured nephew when Mary wants to go to the family dinner at the Musgroves, and, more importantly, taking charge of the Louisa situation when all turns to havoc. But soon after, we see her again step back in the face of Mary’s hissy fit about staying on at Lyme instead of Anne. It’s more like true humility than some of Fanny’s more weak-willed withering under the criticism of Mrs. Norris and such.

Anne is also a keen observer. She accurately sees those around her, for their strengths and their weaknesses. She can properly judge the good spirits of the Musgrove sisters while also understanding the limits of their true characters as being somewhat shallow. She notes the dangers of Mrs. Clay when her sister, Elizabeth, is blinded. And she sees Wentworth’s struggles with regards to herself, his lingering anger but inability to completely shun her. All of this good judgement is also recognized by those around her, and she finds herself in the uncomfortable position of being everyone’s confidant but with very little ability to do much about any of the complaints she hears.

The Anne we see here, of course, is the older, more adult version of the character who made the important decisions in the past that lead to the current circumstances. She’s also the oldest heroine we’ve seen in any of the books, so her strong sense of self is pretty in line with that. But what we see here also makes it easy to understand the character of the 19-year-old version of Anne, a young woman who would have the same sense of duty and humility but with a less strong sense of her own self and trust in her own judgement. It’s mentioned, further, that the teenage Anne believed that she was ultimately helping Wentworth by freeing him from an engagement that might have bound him for an unknown length of time.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Captain Wentworth is an interesting hero. His anger and hurt over Anne’s actions are all very understandable. And his similar wish to avoid much contact with her rings true to, I would guess, many of our own experiences with exes. Austen provides us with a few brief insights into his mentality that highlight how her actions were particularly painful for him, being the exact opposite of the strong, confident way he himself approached decisions. I would say that he doesn’t make appropriate allowances for gender, in that as a man, he was always much more capable of carrying forward his own plans without much reference to others. Anne, on the other hand, being a young woman of 19, had very few real options She is/was beholden to her family in a way that he would never be, and had the engagement went forward, she would be the one remaining home with constant disapproval surrounding her.

We do see much evidence of why Anne was initially attracted to him. While we don’t get a lot of dialogue, we hear a lot about how charmed everyone is by him. He’s also considerate of Anne when it matters, making sure she has a ride home when she’s tired, etc. We can also make some judgements based on what we know of his friends and family. The Crofts are generally described as a very good set of people. And Captain Wentworth’s two Navy friends are also of estimable character. We hear stories from each that reinforce the good of Captain Wentworth, notably that Wentworth takes it upon himself to deliver the awful news of Benwick’s fiancé’s death to him and stays by his side as he mourns.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

There really aren’t any outright villains in this first half. Much can be said against Sir Walter, both for his general personality and for his poor financial decisions that lead to the family being evicted from their family home. On top of that, he and Lady Russell are both behind Anne’s current unhappy situation. But while these aren’t factors in either of their favors, it doesn’t really make them villains either. It’s clear that Anne still has a very close relationship with Lady Russell and doesn’t even really blame her for the advice she gave Anne when she was 19.

Elizabeth and Mary are definitely not great sisters, but neither is really a villain either. Elizabeth is cut from the same cloth as her father and is vain and dismissive of Anne. Mary values Anne more, but in more in the sense of Anne’s being a captive audience to her endless complaints of illness than anything else.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

There’s very little romance in this first half, other than much reflection on the past whirlwind romance between Anne and Wentworth when they were young. Austen’s strength as a writer is on clear display as she’s able to paint a lovely image of this happy couple of the past, even though we never see it for ourselves. She then contrasts that with the sad state of their relationship now. Anne refers to it as a “perpetual estrangement,” which is all the more painful for there once never being “two hearts so open.” It’s beautifully tragic.

We do see the beginnings of change coming though. Captain Wentworth’s reaction to the news that Anne turned down another proposal in the years since he left can raise a few flags as to his thoughts. We also see the steps that he takes to care for Anne when others forget her and the high value he puts on her judgement during the situation with Louisa. And, of course, the marked look he gives Anne when he notices Mr. Elliot staring at her. We later learn that this small moment is one of the real eye-openers Captain Wentworth needed to view how risky his current behavior was to his future happiness.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Mary is probably the funniest character we have here, but often its funny in the infuriating sense. I think many of us know a Mary-like character, which is always the way with Austen’s best comedic characters: they reflect nonsense traits that we see often ourselves in those around us. Mary’s constant complaints about illness to gather attention. Her easy offense at Anne’s getting any sort of attention, even if it’s of the sort that would just result in more work, like nursing Louisa.

Really, it’s hard to come up with much other comedy in this first half. “Persuasion” is a fairly serious, solemn book with more reflection than anything else. Most of the characters are of a serious nature and many of the weaknesses of the lesser characters are of the sort that aren’t necessarily funny and more just kind of sad. The Musgrove girls are described as charming, but it seems that they more have high spirits than any truly great sense of humor.

Probably one of the funniest moments in the entire first half comes from a very brief description of Anne’s ride back home in the buggy with the Crofts. She notes how casually Mrs. Croft reaches over and re-directs the buggy to safety as the Admiral drives so casually they almost hit ditches and fences. Anne reflects that this likely illustrates the nature of their relationship as a hole. As we’re lead to believe that the Crofts are both very good people and truly attached, it’s a funny little insight into the different ways couples manage their lives and relationship together.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

This quote is from Mary in reference to her husband going to the dinner party and leaving her and Anne behind with injured boy. But, given that she then promptly leave Anne to shift alone, I think we can only take it with a grain of salt. Though it’s still pretty funny and tempting to pull out now and then:

“If there is any thing disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.”

This is just a nice quote, I think:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey” [2007]

Movie: “Northanger Abbey”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Catherine Morland – Felicity Jones

Mr. Tilney – JJ Field

Isabella Thorpe – Carey Mulligan

John Thorpe – William Beck

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I really like this adaptation of “Northanger Abbey.” To be fair, I haven’t seen any others, so there isn’t much of a comparison to be had. But in comparison to the book itself, I feel like it hits all the right points. The characters are all perfectly cast. The tone is just right, landing somewhere happily between romance and comedy. And it manages to use a clever device of dream sequences to capture Austen’s satiric intent with Catherine’s preoccupation with gothic novels and the fanciful thoughts they can bring about.

The dream sequences are probably the most notable point out of those three. They’re handily sprinkled throughout the movie, so from the very beginning, we have a clear idea of Catherine’s own head space. The movie also cleverly uses the same actors in many of the fanciful imagings, highlighting how Catherine herself is casting those around her. Henry, of course gets to be the hero, while John Thorpe and Captain Tilney are villains. Isabella, before Catherine wakes up to her true character, is a helpless victim of Captain Tilney’s.

There are a few bigger changes towards the end of the movie with the order of operations between Henry discovering Catherine’s suspicions about his family and her being turned out of the house. It does lose some of the gallantry of Henry, but probably makes for a more dramatic move overall. The audience, like Catherine, is left in suspense of his thoughts and feelings. And, what’s more, we’re given a red herring explanation for why she is suddenly thrown out by General Tilney.

The movie also makes good use of the narrator. The voice, meant to be Jane Austen I believe, only really picks up at the beginning and the ending of the movie. But it does a nice job of bookending the story and, again, giving it that meta sense that the book itself had with regards to stories: stories talking about stories, heroines inspiring heroines, and so on.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Felicity Jones is pitch perfect for Catherine. She’s an excellent balance of youthful naivete and earnest goodwill. Catherine could easily come across as silly, what with her dramatic and rather silly mental dramas. But Jones manages to reign that in, leaving Catherine seeming simply young, but at her heart, good-natured. Her wide-eyed depiction of the character also makes it easy to understand why Catherine is so easily forgiven and taken in by the more level-headed characters around her.

She also does a good job portraying the balancing act that Catherine undertakes initially, between the silly vivacity that her first friends, the Thorpes, are encouraging, and her own wishes to be esteemed by the more polished Tilney siblings. At the same time, Jones’ Catherine is never overshadowed by the larger-than-life characters around her, and she has excellent chemistry with JJ Field.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

For his part, JJ Field also fits the role of Henry Tilney perfectly. He’s affable, charming, and wholesome. As I mentioned in my review of the book, Tilney stands out as the most approachable and easy of all of Austen’s main heroes. He doesn’t have any angst to speak of and his road to romance is the most straight forward. Field has great delivery with many of the Tilney’s comedic lines, teasing Catherine and being teased back himself. There’s a joyousness to his portrayal that is very appealing.

Of course, he also has a bit harder of a sell towards the end, in that unlike the book, he’s not given the chance to fulfill Tilney’s most romantic overture: the immediate forgiveness of Catherine for her silliness and all the effort put out afterwards to make her feel secure again. Instead, he has to do all the lifting in the final scene that includes the explanation of his father’s behavior, his feelings towards Catherine despite her imaginings, and the proposal itself. It’s all handled neatly, and I think is a testament to all the goodwill that has already been built up for the character. Even if we don’t see him immediately forgive Catherine, it’s easy to believe that that was the case. He even admits that his own teasing of Catherine early on, mentioning a certain sort of vampirism at Northanger Abbey, makes him at least partly responsible for her wild theories.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

The villainous characters are all also well-cast. We can see the appeal of Isabella to Catherine, but the viewer is never quite as taken in as she is. Isabella’s obvious disappointment in the lack of wealthy coming her way through her engagement to James is pretty telling. And from there, it’s just a skip and a hop to talking to Catherine about how Captain Tilney is the heir of the family. Of course, the movie goes a much more dire route with this entire affair, having Captain Tilney actually seduce Isabella into his bed, a much bigger transgression than the book presents.

The book does hint that he must have given Isabella some strong signals for her to give up her engagement in pursuit of him, but I don’t think it really meant that things had went as far as the movie portrays. For one thing, it makes Captain Tilney into quite the villain himself. In the book, he’s fairly disagreeable and obviously pursues Isabella inappropriately. We know he means to marry well. But that’s about it. Here, he’s cast with characters such as Wickham and Willoughby, the blackest scoundrels of Austen’s villains, in following their footsteps in ruining young women.

General Tilney is also presented in a fairly foreboding light from the start. The book does a lot of work talking about how thickly he lays on the charm for Catherine, but how oppressive his presence still is overall. That comes through very clear here, it perhaps not too clear. He’s fairly off-putting from the very beginning, and the few lines he gets hint fairly heavily to his confusion about Catherine’s coming wealth from the Allens. The movie is even more strict with his comeuppance, however, as it does away with the bargaining aspect of Eleanor Tilney’s engagement. Instead, it implies that both Eleanor and Henry marry against their father’s wishes leaving him lonely and angry at the gloomy Northanger Abbey.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance is also very sweet in this movie. Like I said early, the chemistry between Jones and Fields is great, making all the flirty dialogue ring true and their mutual teasing is very cute. I like the effort that is put into building this relationship, not only at Bath but at Northanger Abbey itself. There, we see Henry and Catherine going on walks, with Catherine quizzing him on his feelings about marrying not to great wealth. There are also nice smaller moments of them and Eleanor roasting food by the fire. The movie also replaces the entire family’s visit to Henry’s estate with a horseback ride taken by just Henry and Catherine.

I also really like the final scene with the proposal. Most of Austen’s other stories all are still attempting to resolve misunderstandings or greater dramas by the time the proposal comes along. So it’s often a bit more of a serious situation. Here, that’s not so much the case. Yes, there are misunderstandings that are cleared up. But here the entire thing is played with a much lighter feeling and the semi-awkward fumblings of two youngish people declaring their feelings for each other. The movie then goes straight into them having a baby to round out the story, which, from a modern perspective, feels very strange given said young-ness, but you know, such were the times.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

I really liked the comedy in this movie, too. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned, Tilney is the most comedic hero we see in Austen’s books, so it’s important that they hit that right with the casting and with the script. But they also did good work with the Allens, giving them almost more of a presence than they had in the book. We see less of Mrs. Allen’s insipidity, but she retains her preoccupation with clothes, even mentioning Tilney’s good eye for muslin and a recommendation for him still even after the bewildering events that lead to Catherine’s being sent home alone.

John Thorpe is also pretty funny in just how intolerable he is. He perfectly captures the brash, loud, uncouth character that Austen describes. And his attempts at hinting around to Catherine about a second wedding after the engagement between Isabella and James is pretty funny. It’s clear to the audience what is happing, but Catherine is so obviously clueless, and even John doesn’t seem to really want to clue her in on what he’s getting at.

I think one of the funniest little bits comes towards the very end of the movie. Henry Tilney is visiting the Morlands and suggests Catherine show him the way to the Allens’ so he can pay his respects. And then one of the younger sisters points out that you can see their house from the window before being quickly cut-off by her mother, who knows what’s what. The actress who plays Mrs. Morland doesn’t have tons of screen time, but she nails this little moment, and it’s pretty funny.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

There weren’t too many fun facts that I could find, other than costume-related things. But the one costume thing did stand out: that Mr. Tilney wears the same green coat and tan pants as Mr. Darcy does in the 1995 film.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Just some good, ole reaction comedy here:

I also like this one:

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Persuasion.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey”

Book: “Northanger Abbey”

Publication Year: 1817

Book Description: Jane Austen’s first novel—published posthumously in 1818—tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. The satirical novel pokes fun at the gothic novel while earnestly emphasizing caution to the female sex.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

“Northanger Abbey” was written long before it was published, likely around 1798 or 1799. Austen then shelved the novel and didn’t even send it to a publisher until 1803 for 10 pounds. And there it languished, even though Austen has been assured it would be published soon. After six years, Austen wrote to the publisher under a pseudonym to complain. She signed it thus:

I am Gentlemen &c &c                                                                 

– MAD.

She was given the option to buy it back, but couldn’t afford to do so until several years later. At this point, Austen was concerned that the novel would be as relevant as many of the gothic novels and authors that are referenced in the book were decidedly of the time when it was originally written, now over a decade earlier. Austen was also focused on her new novel, “Persuasion.” Shortly there after, Austen passed away. The book along with her others and the copyrights to the published novels passed to her sister. After some negotiation, “Northanger Abbey” finally came to the public in December of 1817 almost twenty years after it was originally written.

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Catherine Morland comes from a large but perfectly normal family. But adventure makes its way to her in the form of a trip to Bath with some wealthy family friends, the Allens. Once there, she is ready to view the world through the lens of her gothic novels that she loves to read. However, life seems rather ordinary, if still more exciting than her small-town. Luckily, a hero enters her world in the form of a gentleman named Mr. Tilney who is very lively and perfectly suits Catherine. Her social circle then extends further with the introduction of the Thorpe family and the eldest daughter, Isabella, who quickly becomes Catherine’s fast friend.

While Isabella’s temperament is much more lively than Catherine’s with much nonsense about hating flirting while flirting constantly herself, Catherine is happy to have a friend. Soon after, Isabella’s brother, John, comes to bath bringing with him Catherine’s own brother, James. It becomes quite clear that James has been in love with Isabella for some time (having met the family earlier that year). Catherine is informed that John is a good man more than she sees it herself, often finding him to be loud and verging on rude. Her biggest complaint comes at a ball where she is forced to uphold a commitment to dance with John at the detriment of her greater desire to dance with Mr. Tilney. She does make the acquaintance of his sister Miss Tilney and makes plans to go on a country walk with the two of them the following day.

The next morning, however, she is bombarded by James, John, and Isabella to join them on carriage rides out to visit a castle. Catherine informs them that she has previous plans, but they continue to badger her on and on. Eventually, John informs her that he saw the Tilney’s heading off in their own carriage, so they clearly meant to skip the walk based on the early morning rain. Catherine doesn’t know what to do, but eventually gives in, more in the hopes of seeing the castle than spending more time with John in his carriage. But shortly after setting off, Catherine sees the Tilneys walking down the street towards her house. John refuses to stop and let her out, however, and Catherine ends up trapped on the trip. They don’t even make it to the castle, and Catherine ends the day very upset knowing the Tilneys must be confused and hurt by her behavior.

The next day, she goes out of her way to track down the Tilneys and explain the situation. She’s so earnest and clearly upset that they both quickly forgive her. She also meets their father, General Tilney, a stately man who Catherine saw John speaking to earlier. He is extremely gracious and urges the friendship on between Catherine and his son and daughter. Soon after, they are able to schedule their walk, and Catherine grows closer with Miss Tilney and continues to enjoy greater attachment to Mr. Tilney.

Soon, Isabella approaches Catherine with exciting news: she and James are engaged! Catherine is thrilled, though confused by Isabella’s worries that she is not James’s financial equal. James quickly makes his way home and returns with glad tidings that his parents approve and will be able to give him a decent, though not large, amount of money and living in a few years. Isabella is greatly put-out, but insists she never complains. Much to Catherine’s dismay, however, she sees Isabella behaving more and more poorly by flirty with Mr. Tilney’s older brother who has also come to town. Catherine sees that this behavior hurts her brother and doesn’t know what to make of it.

She is diverted to more pleasant things when she receives an invitation to visit the Tilney’s at their home of Northanger Abbey. Catherine is thrilled, not only to be spending more time with her dear friends, but also at the prospect of wandering through such a dramatic, gothic location that is sure to hide all sorts of dreadful mysteries (per her novels, of course). Mr. Tilney laughs at her anticipations, and Catherine is happy enough to laugh at herself, too. But upon arrival, she can’t help but become intrigued by mysterious, old chests and wardrobes set up in her room. All she discovers, however, are old washing lists and the extent of her own silliness.

Life at the Abbey is ruled by the strict schedule of the General. While still very gracious to Catherine, he also has strange habits and refuses to let Eleanor show Catherine the deceased Mrs. Tilney’s rooms. Catherine begins to become more and more suspicious of the General’s relationship with the dead Mrs. Tilney. Is she even dead at all, or locked up in some drafty corner of the Abbey? Catherine decides to explore on her own, but is caught by Mr. Tilney in Mrs. Tilney’s very normal-looking rooms. He immediately figures out what Catherine was up to and chastises her for letting her imagination rule her. Catherine is extremely ashamed of herself and upset that she has lost Mr. Tilney’s respect forever. However, he goes out of his way to make her comfortable over the next few days, and Catherine comes out of the ordeal having learned a much needed lesson about sensational novels and real life.

During her visit, she receives an upsetting letter from her brother James saying that the engagement between him and Isabella is off. He hints to her behavior being increasingly concerning and notes that Catherine will soon hear news about Isabella’s upcoming attachment to the Tilney family. Both Miss and Mr. Tilney are sure that whatever poor behavior has taken part, it is very unlikely that their older brother will become engaged to someone as poor and lowly as Isabella. Sure enough, Catherine does hear from Isabella who pleads with Catherine to intercede with James on her behalf fearing there has been some sort of “misunderstanding.” Catherine is appalled and, now finally seeing Isabella for what she is, swears off the friendship forever.

Her happy visit comes to an abrupt and confusing end, however, when the General returns from a trip and insists that Catherine leave at once. She is practically forced out the very next day and sent home alone and by post. Catherine is confused and upset. Eleanor is beside herself at the poor treatment of her friend. And Mr. Tilney is from home when it all happens, so Catherine doesn’t even get to say goodbye to him. She arrives home safely, but is much out of spirits, to her parents’ great dismay.

Shortly after, however, Mr. Tilney arrives to clear matters up. He confesses that General Tilney is a bad tempered man who only wants his children to marry fortunes. He was deceived by John Thorpe into thinking that Catherine was very wealthy, hence his immediate approval of her. Later, a bitter John also exaggerated just how poor Catherine’s family was which lead to her dismissal from Northanger Abbey. Mr. Tilney proposes to Catherine, and while they are happily in love, they worry about their future, needing the General’s approval to marry. Eventually, however, Miss Tilney becomes engaged to a very rich man and insists that her father approve of Mr. Tilney and Catherine which he grudgingly does, and the two get married.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Catherine Morland is the quintessential heroine. For all that she’s the main character in a book that is largely a satire of the popular Gothic novels of the time, she’s still a very likable, undestandable character in her own right. She both acts her age, but is also not overly silly and dramatic. Especially against the backdrop of Isabella’s behavior, Catherine’s own nonsense is all kept well in check for the most part (silliness at the Abbey aside). It’s easy to see how both Tilney siblings would be drawn in by her earnest, naive goodness. She’s truly bewildered when coming up across the Thorpe’s and elder Tilney’s of the world, having very little ability to anticipate the foibles or meaner streaks of others. The reader easily sees through both Isabella and John, but not poor Catherine.

She does make her fair share of mistakes, but they all are of the type that seem to come from her young age rather than anything else. She also always pays a price for her poor choices. We see her get talked into the carriage ride with Isabella, James, and John. Though to be fair to her, this is only after she resists for quite a while and then is lied to. But, again, she’s so earnest in her apology to the Tilneys, so not bothered by laying all of her feelings out in the open, it’s easy to understand why she is quickly forgiven. Later, when John Thorpe tries to pull a similar move, she’s even stronger and immediately corrects the situation.

Obviously, her behavior at the Abbey is her at her worst, though even there much of her nonsense is contained to her own antics in her room. But she is discovered by Mr. Tilney in her grim imaginings of the late Mrs. Tilney and is quite chastised by him. One can only imagine how humiliating this entire situation would be. It’s a credit to both of them that they recover as well as they do. From there, one can only expect that Catherine has gotten most of her nonsense out of her system and will grow into a very proper young woman. At her heart, she’s clearly a good sort of girl. She’s definitely the most simple of Austen’s heroines, but this doesn’t make her less compelling. And, as an excuse if she even needs one, she’s definitely the heroine of the most straight-forward story. There is very little drama, confusion, or general angst that she must deal with. And thus she’s allowed her simple flaws and her vast reward at the end.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

While it can be argued that Edmund rather deserves to be one of the more forgotten Austen heroes, what with his main love arc being with an entirely different woman than the one we’re rooting for, it’s unfortunate that Henry Tilney is routinely also falls in this lesser-known category. Unlike Edmund, Henry has his head on straight from the very beginning, and beyond that, he is probably the most likable hero we’ll find in Austen’s entire catalog. He’s definitely the best humored. We don’t have pride, or restraint, or shyness, or prior bad decisions that are haunting him, etc. etc. No, he’s gallant, funny, and likable from start to finish. The worst that can be said for him is that he probably comes to love Catherine largely due to her initial interest. And this speaks more to Austen’s clear-eyed view of how love affairs often go than to any actual flaw on Tilney’s part.

Probably one of his best moments in the book is how he handles discovering Catherine’s wild suspicions about his father. Of course, he’s been teasing her about her love for gothic novels (though admits to devouring them himself, as well), but it had to be truly shocking to see her take her imagination that far. He’s fairly frank in his assessment of her behavior and tells her so. But then…but then! Austen goes into great detail to describe the effort that Mr. Tilney puts out that evening and over the next couple of days to make Catherine feel comfortable again. It shows not only great awareness on his part, understanding how awkward and uncomfortable she must be feeling, but also just a truly kind spirit who does not hold things like this against a young Catherine.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

For villains, we have the Thorpe siblings and Colonel Tilney himself. The Thorpes are both the more obviously rotten apples from the very start. This is where poor Catherine is truly let down by the shoddy guardianship of Mrs. Allen. Most of Mrs. Allen’s foibles are contained to silliness about clothes and not having much to say, but in overseeing her young ward’s new friends, she really drops the ball. Isabella is less obviously bad, but John Thorpe shows his colors almost immediately. He’s rude, brash, and generally unpleasant. The wildness of many of the group’s plans are also clear warning signs to any good guardian, and even Catherine goes so far as to express surprise that Mrs. Allen didn’t say anything about whether the planned carriage rides were all together proper. To her credit, Catherine is never convinced that John is quite the thing from the very start and even wonders a bit at her brother’s praise of him. And then, of course, the shock and horror of finding out that John thought she was encouraging him!

Isabella is a tougher nut to crack, and it’s easier to see how Catherine could have the wool pulled over her eyes easily by a young woman who so quickly proclaims Catherine dear to her. Up to the point where Catherine meets Isabella, it’s clear that she is quite lonely. So a firm friend with almost built-in intimacy was sure to be a great temptation. And it would take some very clear thinking to really dig through all of Isabella’s grand speeches about her own values and compare them, clear-eyed, with Isabella’s actual behavior. But Catherine is still quick to see that something is not right in Isabella’s treatment of her brother and with her flirtations with the elder Tilney. While we feel for Catherine’s distress when it all comes crashing down, the reader at least feels a good amount of smug approval at the way Isabella’s blatant scheming leaves her ultimately with nothing.

Colonel Tilney fulfills the more traditional villain role as the one to keep our hero and heroine from each other. Of course, this only after he spends a good majority of the book pushing them together. We later learn, of course, that his behavior, first at encouraging the couple and then evicting Catherine, all come from John Thorpe’s big mouth. But these are still actions of a selfish, hard-hearted man. The Mr. Tilney and Miss Tilney’s clear discomfort when around their father is the first clue, and even Catherine notes that his presence a

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

This is the most straight-forward romance in all of Austen’s books. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl does something foolish, but boy quickly forgives her with no misunderstandings or drawn-out angst. Father tries to interceded, but boy and girl get married in the end. But it’s also a testament to the fact that a good romance story doesn’t need to be mired in drama, lack of communication, and unnecessary misunderstandings. Mr. Tilney and Catherine are sweet, likable, and the reader is invested in their relationship from the very beginning.

Of course obstacles are put in their way, but even those are few and far between and often fairly quickly dealt with. Any early misunderstandings between the two of them are quickly rectified by, shocker!, actually talking about the situation. Catherine goes out of her way to track down Mr. Tilney and explain what happened over the missed engagement for their country walk. And when Catherine is caught in her nonsense and the Abbey, Mr. Tilney is quick to go out of his way to reassure her that his attachment to her is unchanged. And, of course, after Catherine is banished from Northanger, Mr. Tilney quickly follows to make his apologies to her and her family and declare himself to Catherine. From their, being a Jane Austen novel, the rest of the couples problems are succinctly dealt with while also assuring that Eleanor Tilney also gets her own happy ending.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Before she shows the depths of her true character, Isabella Thorpe is good for some laughs early in the book. Unlike Catherine, the reader quite quickly picks up on the disconnect between Isabella’s statements and her actions. There is an especially funny moment when Isabella starts bemoaning two gentleman that she claims are plaguing her with their unwanted attention. But then they leave, and she essentially drags Catherine after them in a chase to catch up to them once again and regain their attention.

Mrs. Allen is also a pretty good comedic character. She doesn’t have a ton of page time, but we still get a pretty good picture of her personality. Constantly fretting about her clothes and repeating the same useless sentiments over and over again followed by no change in her actions, it’s easy to see how Catherine could be quickly taken in by the excitement of a new companion like Isabella Thorpe.

And, like I said earlier, Mr. Tilney himself is pretty funny. More than any other Austen hero, we see Tilney poking fun at Catherine as well as himself throughout the story. We also see a lovely sibling relationship between him and Eleanor Tilney, with Eleanor often stepping in to explain her brother’s ridiculousness to a bewildered Catherine. We’ve seen a lot of good sibling relationships, but Eleanor and Mr. Tilney stand out in being the most equal-seeming and essentially teamed up against the trials of their family life. Catherine really strikes gold in them both, ending up with an excellent husband and a supreme sister-in-law to boot.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

“[I]t is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”

I’ve always loved this quote and have used it as a touchstone in my own life at points. It’s just such straight-forward, good common sense. And a nice reminder to not let any one thing or person becoming too defining in our own life. Of course our loved ones are at the center of it all, but our happiness is not reliant on them. Happiness is entirely our own responsibility, not someone else’s, and with that in mind, why not give yourself the best chance of success by finding happiness in a wide range of things?

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

This is a quote from Mr. Tilney and one that is immediately followed by Eleanor Tilney’s continued scolding/teasing that he is misrepresenting himself to Catherine. It’s a funny comment on its own, and a good example of Mr. Tilney’s excellent sense of humor.

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Another good, short quip that I always wish I could remember to pull out at just the right moment. Alas, I cannot speak well enough to quote literature at the perfect moments.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

I’m not going to go into much as far as final thoughts for this book. Funnily enough, “Northanger Abbey” had previously been probably one of my least re-read books of Austen’s, but I’ve now read and reviewed it in some form or another twice in the last year and a half! That, and because the book itself is fairly short, is why I’m only devoting one post to reviewing this book. But for some more general thoughts from both me and Kate, check out our Bookclub Review of “Northanger Abbey.”

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2007 movie “Northanger Abbey.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” [2007]

Movie: “Mansfield Park”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Fanny – Billie Piper

Edmund – Blake Ritson

Mary Crawford – Haley Atwell

Henry Crawford – Joseph Beattie

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

For all my complaints about the 1999 version of this story, there’s a reason I’ve seen that one a decent number of times while this is only my second viewing of this version. Sure it’s free of some of the truly upsetting changes that the 1999 version made, but it also feels strangely dull and heartless, nothing something you ever want to see from an Austen adaptation.

With the exception of Haley Atwell, I think most of the casting is wrong is film. Or, at the very least, worse than the 1999 version’s cast. There is very little chemistry between any and all of the characters up to and including our main romantic pair. Atwell, alone, manages to have good chemistry with most of those she works alongside. The rest seem to be largely working alongside each other rather than directly with one another. It’s hard to buy into any of the relationships we’re being presented with, let alone become terribly invested.

I also think the overall tone of the movie is working against our main characters. Fanny and Edmund are both serious characters. But the movie insists on making them run around and frolic like children. The grand ball scene becomes a capering picnic. And the final romantic climax is marred by our two love birds chasing each other around like little kids. There’s just something off about the whole thing that never allows the movie to feel like it has settled into what it wants to be.

It, too, changes aspects of the original story, most notably cutting out the entire Portsmouth scene (to save money on actors and locations??). This single change alone I think hurts the movie quite a lot. And strangely, like I said, that while the 1999 version arguably made bigger (and often worse) changes, the smaller, seemingly less offensive, changes made here somehow make this movie, as a whole, less engaging. Even while remaining more true to the book in many ways (the inclusion of Fanny’s brother William, for example), I would say this movie fails just as much as an adaptation of Austen’s work. And, when given the choice, I’ll still watch the 1999 version before this.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I really don’t love this version of Fanny Price. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of Billie Piper at the best of times, but I don’t think it’s just her acting that I don’t like here. Like the previous version of “Mansfield Park,” this one takes a similar route with Fanny by making her much more exuberant. Even more so, I’d say. We have multiple scenes of her running around through the house, chasing a dog around, playing with children. I’m sure it’s supposed to emphasize her innocence, but combined with her hair styling (loose hair is only for very young girls in this time period), all it does is serve to make Fanny seem overly child-like herself.

Other changes, like re-imagining the ball as a picnic do nothing to help with this perception. No lovely, noble dance scenes, but instead, again, children’s yard games that do nothing to help Fanny’s coming across as little girl-ish. I also don’t like the change of having her remain at Mansfield Park by herself rather than go to Portsmouth. By removing this contrast of settings, we’re left with even less to highlight the truly well-bred refinement of Fanny that is supposed to be hiding beneath her quiet nature. And, of course, the final “romantic” scene that has her and Edmund chasing each other around the house…like children.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I have a bit of a “chicken or the egg” issue with Blake Ritson’s version of Edmund. I saw the 2009 “Emma” where he plays the sleazy Mr. Elton before I saw this one, so that impression was firmly in my mind the first time I saw this movie. But, on the other hand, he was cast into that role very shortly after portraying Edmund in this film in 2007. So obviously someone else saw his performance here and thought “Eh, maybe not romantic hero material…but this kind of slimy character? Perfect!”

Edmund as a character is always a tough role. His morality can come across as patronizing and preachy. He falls for the obviously wrong woman and spends most of his time with his head in the sand. And then the book itself does very little to show him coming to his sense, so any adaptation is left almost entirely on its own for how to navigate this transition.

Unfortunately for him, Ritson also had to go up against Miller’s version of the character from the 1999 movie, one of the few aspects of that movie that most fans agree was solidly good. And I just don’t think Ritson was up to the task. He’s very hard to take seriously and often comes across more as a caricature of a gentleman than anything else. Him, also, running around after Fanny during the big “romantic” scene doesn’t help this version of Edmund’s character be taken seriously.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

I really like Haley Atwell’s version of Mary Crawford. She has a natural easy charm that makes it much easier to buy into Edmund’s blind infatuation with her. She’s beautiful, but also brings a different type of warmth to the character that makes her very engaging. If anything, it’s almost a bit harder to see faults in this version of Mary than in others. For one thing, when Henry Crawford approaches her about his plans to woo Fanny, this Mary seems to be much more earnestly concerned for Fanny’s welfare, which endears her more to viewers.

Henry Crawford is also well-cast, having that roguish and somewhat wild look that appeals to certain women. It’s easy to see why flags go up for Fanny, and this version doesn’t hesitate from pushing the Crawford/Maria romance to its extremes, having them actually make out while practicing for the play, almost being caught by Rushworth and Julia. Again, however, the decision to have Fanny simply stay on at Mansfield Park instead of making her trip to Portsmouth doesn’t serve the story well. Crawford showing up here has much less impact that it did having him show up on the poor doorstep of Fanny’s original family. If anything, it’s even easier to see why Fanny would be unmoved by all of this. She doesn’t have the comparison of Mansfield and Portsmouth that Sir Walter mentions when hatching a plan to urge her towards Crawford in both the book and the 1999 version of the movie. Her just being lonely at Mansfield doesn’t seem like it would at all serve the same purpose. Given how little many of the family members pay attention to her anyways (and when they do, it’s just to give her orders, so in some lights, this is almost a vacation for her), it’s hard to think that the lack of “society” is really all that much for a young woman who stayed home much of the time anyways. And then, what’s more, Fanny doesn’t have an opportunity to see Crawford at his best when he’s behaving so nicely to her often rude and uncouth family in Portsmouth. Altogether, it’s no wonder she doesn’t waver here.

The biggest miss as far as villains go, however, is Mrs. Norris. This version of the character is all over the place and the movie never seems to really settle on what aspect of her personality it wants to highlight. It’s never clear exactly what her motives are, why she says/does what she says/does, or what her problem with Fanny is in the first place. Obviously, the book has plenty of time to flesh out her character, but even the 1999 version of the story was able to provide a clear image of who Mrs. Norris is. Here, she just kind of flits in and out of scenes and makes an odd comment here or there. Without having the book as a mental reference, I’m not sure if the casual viewer would have any idea what to make of her.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Shocking no one, as I’ve already referenced it in both the heroine and hero sections, I don’t love the romance in this movie. I don’t think that Piper and Ritson had very good chemistry. In fact, I think they almost worked against each other in some ways. Unlike the 1999 version of this story, this movie doesn’t put nearly as much effort into establishing Edmund’s underlying feelings for Fanny. I think Jonny Lee Miller was much better at some of the smaller, more subtle facial expressions that indicated interest in Fanny along the way. And the screenplay itself wrote in more opportunities for this relationship to be brought forward. Not having a grand ball scene really doesn’t help this. I can’t remember where I read this, but some commentator once noted that the ball scenes were almost like the sex scenes for Austen romances, often the pinnacle and brimming over point for building up these relationships.

And, I really can’t express this enough…I hated, hated, the whole running after one another scene as the grand finale of this romance. It’s just so silly and juvenile. Any romantic tone is completely undercut, and it just feels anticlimactic. There is a fairly big change to Lady Bertram’s character in this scene, as she is instrumental in getting Fanny and Edmund alone, and then notes to Sir Walter that Fanny’s always been in love with Edmund and it looks like he finally noticed. There’s obviously no hint of this type of perception in the book version of the character, but it’s the kind of funny little change that I didn’t mind in this movie. If anything, it felt more “Austen-like” than anything else in this last scene. So, with everything else, I’ll take it.

It’s only a small thing, but I do like the inclusion of Fanny and Edmund waltzing at the end of this movie. It’s one of those small, throw-away moments that will appeal to history fans who will recognize that this type of dancing was just coming onto the scene around this time. It’s a nice little wink of the eye.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

The comedy is always the challenge for this story. The book itself is probably the least comical of all of Austen’s works and the adaptations have to come to their own decisions about what to do with a leading lady who is so aggressively earnest, quiet, and good-natured that the thought of her cracking jokes is almost unheard of. The 1999 version did a fairly decent job of getting some humor in for Fanny, but, of course, that version was also way off base with much of Fanny’s characterization (as far as it resembling the character in the book, at least) so it’s no wonder that they could make this practically original heroine funny on top of the rest. Here, Fanny is more in line with the book version, but also just more dull.

The loss of Mrs. Norris is pretty huge here. The other movie used her for comedy to great success, even if it was the “love to hate” kind of comedy. But she’s such a non-presence here that the same can’t be said. The Crawfords, too, with their limited screen time, don’t have much humor. Rushworth is still good, of course, but he also doesn’t capture the screen the same way that the previous Rushworth did. I have a harder time even remembering anything distinctive about this version where I can point to several instances of laughs from the 1999 version of the character.

Overall, the movie feels fairly joyless, for all that they’re trying to make some grand point of Fanny’s child-like wonder of life with her constant frolicking.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Really not much here, other than the usual costume connections between many of these Austen adaptations.

The actress who plays young Fanny also played a younger version of Billie Piper character in “Doctor Who.”

And, speaking of “Doctor Who,” a whole host of actors from this film have made appearances in the long-running show, including Billie Piper, Julia Joyce, Michelle Ryan and Jemma Redgrave.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This is the big moment where Edmund realizes his love for Fanny…about sums it up, I think. *snores*

In two weeks, I’ll review “Northanger Abbey.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” [1999]

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Movie: “Mansfield Park”

Release Year: 1999

Actors: Fanny – Frances O’Connor

Edmund – Jonny Lee Miller

Mary Crawford – Embeth Davidtz

Henry Crawford – Alessandro Nivola

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

This is probably the most interesting Jane Austen adaptation we’ve seen so far in this review series. For the most part (other than the modern re-imaginings, of course), the other movies have stuck pretty closely to their book counterparts. There are small changes here and there, extra lines added/removed, and various actors bringing their own flare to the characters, to varying levels of success. But while this movie does keep the main plot points included, it also makes some significant character changes and also heavily focuses on themes only briefly touched upon in the book, most notably, the role of the slave trade on British life during this time period.

I’ll dive more deeply into the character changes later, but both Fanny and Sir Thomas have some striking dissimilarities to their book versions. But the other big change is the focus on slavery and the growing abolitionist movement at the time. Right in the beginning of the movie as Fanny travels to Mansfield, she sees a slave ship docked on the coastline and is struck by it. Later, as an adult, she and Edmund discuss the abolitionist movement, with Edmund noting that while progress in that area is a moral good, their livelihoods are currently funded by the wealth provided by the Bertram family’s plantations in Antigua. For his part, Sir Thomas espouses some very racist and incorrect points of view at a family gathering, starting off a minor family scuffle when Edmund and Fanny attempt to correct him. And, of course, we later see the horrific actions that Sir Thomas has taken against his slaves depicted in Tom’s artwork. I’ll get more into Sir Thomas and these violent acts later, but I have a similar problem with that depiction as I do with some of this theme.

Mainly, the movie seems to be wanting to have it both ways: it wants to bring up this topic as one that would be relevant to the times and add a more meaningful weight to Edmund and Fanny’s discussion (the book largely focuses on nature and religion here), but the movie also doesn’t want to change anything significant about the story in this light. Meaning, there’s all of this discussion about the slave trade, but no characters actually make any meaningful steps or really change anything about their lives in response to this. This is likely realistic, it’s not like many nobles of the time were probably giving up their fortune in the work of moving towards freedom from the African people enslaved. But it also makes the movie end on a very awkward, unresolved note. It’s rather uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the point? But if so, even that fails to really settle with any weight.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I have mixed feelings on this portrayal of Fanny Price. On one hand, I really like Frances O’Connor’s acting overall and think she fits the mental image I had of Fanny pretty perfectly. On the other hand, I think the character is really all over the place throughout the movie, sometimes being presented as a strong-willed, verging on rebellious young woman, and at others reverting back to the more meek and mild version of the character that we’re familiar with from the book.

One of the big challenges of adapting this book is Fanny herself. She’s an even more quiet and reserved character than Eleanor who also has Marianne to balance her out. So, I get that adjustments had to be made here. Edmund’s “grooming” of Fanny definitely doesn’t work for modern audiences. Nor does the fact that most of Fanny’s longer speeches (that she makes out loud at least) have to do with the wonders of nature, poetry, and the clergy. As I’ve mentioned in my review of the books, there are even times when Fanny seems to be suffering from some mild form of Stockholm Syndrome, especially with how thankful she is for Mrs. Norris’s constant reminders of how very, very lucky Fanny is to be in a family where she is largely ignored and otherwise put to work as a glorified maid service for the ladies of the house.

So, all of that acknowledged, I generally am ok with the changes they’ve made to Fanny here, especially when they emphasize her more wild moments (running around with Edmund, horse back riding, being more firm when she stands up to Sir Thomas about refusing Mr. Crawford). There is a bit of whiplash when she switches back to being meek/mild all of a sudden, but I get it.

The only real problem I have with her portrayal is the decision the movie makes to have her briefly accept Henry Crawford. Again, on one hand, I get the point the movie is trying to make about the very real, very scary situation facing women of the time. We see Fanny witness the life her mother has had after marrying the wrong man, essentially. She married for love, but it is clear that that love is gone and all that remains is a life marred with poverty and too many children. This could easily be Fanny’s future, and I like that they acknowledge these hard choices, especially in a Jane Austen film that, naturally, usually tells the much more romantic, lovely version of young women finding love and wealth (or at least good comfort) together.

I also think that this change can add a good balance point between Edmund and Fanny, which I’ll talk more about later. But strictly looking at it as a character adaptation from what we’re given in the book, this is the biggest change to Fanny’s character we see and one that undermines one of the most prevalent aspects of her entire character. Through the book, Fanny is largely a silent observer. But through access to her inner thoughts and the more revealing conersations we see between her and Edmund, it becomes very clear that Fanny is the only character who is truly clear-eyed about the people and events going on around her. She also is the only one to hold true to the principles she expresses. Edmund talks a good game, but he ultimately joins in the play (after very little prompting really) and is willfully blind to Mary Crawford’s true character. Most of the rest don’t even come close to his levels. By the end of the book, Austen devotes a decent amount of time to Sir Thomas reflecting on the failures of parenting that lead to his children being raised to look the part of well-bred individuals but who ultimately lacked the firm foundation that is required beneath it all to be truly moral or proper.

Fanny, alone, stands true to her beliefs. Even in Portsmouth where we see her struggling to get by in her family’s household (her health actually suffers), Fanny’s focus shifts to what she can bring to this family and she devotes much of her time to improving Susan. When Crawford visits, she sees his improvements as nothing more than a hopeful sign that he will soon recognize the pain he causes her by continuing to pursue her. She knows she doesn’t love him. Knows that a future with a character such as he is (one who she has witnessed toying with women) is questionable at best. If anything, for the book character at least, seeing the situation her mother is in also reinforces the idea that marrying the wrong man can have dire consequences, making Henry Crawford’s fortune not necessarily the assurance of comfort that it originally seems, from a purely practical sense.

The story is almost built around this essential trait of Fanny’s, and one that is presented as unique and rare to her, so to give that up in the movie is strange to say the least. And, given that she changes her mind the very next day, adding weight to Crawford’s accusations of her own inconstancy and lack of trustworthiness, I’m not quite sure what it really adds to the movie. Does it really give us any greater insights into Fanny herself? Into the situation women faced? All of that could have still been accomplished without undermining the steadiness that Fanny is later praised for. Edmund even calls it her “infallible guide”…but the movie itself just worked against such strong language or terms. I think I just wish the movie had done more with this moment. If they were really going to play around with such a key part of Fanny’s character (perhaps the key part of her character), I feel like more needed to be done to justify the change, either leading up to her making this decision or in the fallout. As it is, it feels unnecessary and both undermines Fanny herself and lends some extra motivation for Henry Crawford’s rash actions later on (though not much, and I’ll touch on that in the Villains section).

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Edmund is so much more likable in this movie than he is in the book. My love for Jonny Lee Miller has been well-established at this point, so of course, I credit his natural charisma as helping bring the character more forward as a hero. But we also simply see more heroic deeds from him. Or, at the very least, more romantic hero deeds from him. Unlike in the book, this version presents Edmund as half-aware of his interest in Fanny the entire time. The audience is never left to question whether Edmund has feelings for Fanny, it’s there from the beginning. It’s there when he mistakes his father’s praising of his choice in women, thinking of Mary Crawford, for Fanny herself. It’s there when, after Mary Crawford disheartens him about her views on the clergy, he demands the first two dances with Fanny instead of Mary. It’s there when we watch Edmund and Henry Crawford gaze after Fanny as she leaves the ball, clearly paralleling them both as interested parties. It’s there in strained words of missing her when he fetches her back home and then when we falls asleep on her shoulder. And it’s most especially there when he initiates their almost kiss in the middle of their middle-of-the-night encounter in Tom’s room (this, still, before Edmund had even heard Mary Crawford finally truly expose herself).

Miller’s version strikes a good balance between Edmund’s own moral sense while also making him believably young and naive enough to fall for a woman like Miss Crawford. His take on the character is very fresh-faced and wide-eyed. So while we see him giving good speeches on the quality of literature and concerns about the slave trade, it’s also easy enough to see him swayed over to being in a tawdry play and pursue Mary past the point of reason. In the end, it’s much easier to forgive him his nonsense for all the more good we’re given to continue liking him throughout this version.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

For a book that is already largely made up of villains, somehow the movie went and made more?? I’ll get into the Crawfords, of course, but one of the most major changes to this adaptation of the book is the striking character revision of Sir Thomas. In the book, he could be gruff at times, but was largely a benevolent character, often coming in second to Edmund as actually caring about Fanny’s needs. We see him arrange the ball for her largely out of genuine care for her and her brother. And even after she refuses Mr. Crawford and he speaks harshly to her, he follows this up directly with the action of making sure there is a fire in her room. From there, he does nothing but quietly discuss the situation with Edmund and resolve to let things play out as they will. The worst that can be said about him is that he becomes a bit neglectful when caught up in the family drama at the end, leaving Fanny to linger in Portsmouth.

Here, not the case. It’s actually a very uncomfortable change, overall. I’m not necessarily opposed to re-writing the character this way, but I’m not sure what purpose it ultimately served with how it’s done here. We don’t really need a reason to dislike this character as, like I’ve said, there are plenty of unlikable characters in this story. And even if they had left the character completely as is in this movie, harsher threats to Fanny and colder/creepier disposition overall, he would have been plenty unlikable. But then they add in the graphic nature of his treatment of the slaves at the plantation. The images Tom draws depict every sort of violence, up to and including sexual violence. And then…the movie never touches the topic again.

We’re left with a family who essentially goes on as is, with Fanny and Edmund interacting with everyone in the same manner as always, even going so far as to bring Fanny’s younger sister, Susan, into the household. In the book, this makes sense. With this type of character portrayal for Sir Thomas? There are some serious eyebrow raises about introducing a young woman into that situation, ones that you have to think the very moral and upright Fanny and Edmund (one has to assume she would tell him about this) would have serious concerns about. And then, beyond that, the movie fails completely to make any actual statement or rebuke of this character. It just…sits there. If you’re going to touch on this very real part of history, you have to actually do something with it. As it is, it’s almost worse than not acknowledging these harsh realities at all, since the movie introduces the topic but then does so little with it that it begins to feel exploitative and used for graphic thrills rather than adding any meaningful commentary. I have a big problem with it, ultimately.

For their part, the Crawford siblings are pretty similar to what we see in the book. I do like that we actually get to see the scene where Mary Crawford so thoroughly exposes herself as a terrible person. In the book, it’s kind of anticlimatic to just hear about it second hand through Edmund’s recounting to Fanny.

As for Henry Crawford, the casting here was perfect as I think he immediately sets of spidey-senses for most women as not a trustworthy guy. Too charming by half! His arc is influenced a bit, I think, by the changes they make to Fanny’s decision to briefly accept him only to promptly drop him again the very next day. Not that this disappointment in any ways justifies his or Maria’s actions. But it does paint the entire thing in a bit of a different light, since he’s clearly still reeling from this quick about-face. It also does add weight to his comment that Fanny is somehow the perfect example of trustworthiness. He’s right! She’s not, really, after this! It’s a very human thing she does, but he also has a point. In the book, there is really nothing pushing him towards Maria other than sheer boredom and ego. Here he does have a recently broken heart to somewhat explain his poor decision making. As far as his character arc goes, I’m fine with either option. I have more problems with what it does to Fanny’s character than his, really.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

As I discussed in the “Heroes” section, the romance is greatly increased in this version of “Mansfield Park.” The entire movie gives us ample evidence that Fanny’s love is requited but that Edmund is just too much of a dunderhead to really put it all together. Really, there’s almost more on the screen highlighting Edmund’s love of Fanny than the other way around. We know it to be true since Fanny pretty much confesses as much, but he has many more actions and lingering looks to his side of things (probably a testament to the director/writers knowing who the main audience will likely be composed of…).

In some ways, Edmund and Fanny are more balanced together in this version as well. I know it’s been some fan’s complaints that it seems that Fanny is essentially Edmund’s reward at the end of the book for getting through the trials that were Mary Crawford. In my review of the book, I argued that it is the opposite: that Edmund is Fanny’s reward for staying true to her principles in the face of everything. Here, we see them both stumble. Edmund, of course, still pursues Mary Crawford (though the near kiss with Fanny does introduce a question into whether he’d have gone through with that relationship even if Mary hadn’t sabotaged herself). He still even has the line about not being able to picture anyone as his wife but for Mary (harder to buy that line in a movie like this that only shortly before had him confusing his father’s compliments on his choice of a potential bride for Fanny instead of Mary…tell me again how he couldn’t picture anyone else as a bride??) But here, we also see Fanny stumble, briefly giving into fear of a poor future to accept Henry Crawford, if only for one night. I talked more about that in the Heroines section, but I think the decision itself plays best when viewed through the romance angle, as one that makes equals, equally flawed at least, out of our main couple.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

The movie definitely adds in more comedy to the proceedings, making it, in some ways, feel more like a Jane Austen story that the original book did itself. There’s a great little montage right after the family party meets the Crawfords where we go through each individual primping and prepping themselves, all clearly besotted in one way or another with the two new comers. Some of Mrs. Norris’s nastiness is hedged a bit more for laughs, though she’s still generally just an awful person. And Fanny and Edmund’s interactions are often tinged with a lighter note as well than they were in the books. Wisely, the director and writers steered well-clear of giving too many impressions of Edmund’s “molding” Fanny as she grew, something that is often referenced in the book but that means something very different to modern audiences than it would have at the time.

Mr. Rushworth is definitely the primary humorous character. He’s great from start to finish. He doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but the actor really makes the most of even the brief appearances we do see. He bumbles about, seemingly only half aware of his surroundings at any given moment, clearly ignorant of his fiance’s contempt. His bragging about his number of speeches and costume changes to the baffled Sir Thomas (this, on their first meeting!) is pure gold. And, of course, we get to actually see the morning where Maria and Crawford are discovered to be missing. In some ways, seeing the reality of the situation settle on poor Mr. Rushworth does more to really highlight the wrongness of the situation than what we got in the book. Silly he may be, but here we get to actually see the human cost of two selfish individuals and their thoughtless actions.

And, of course, the movie kept in my favorite comedic moment from the book: when Lady Bertram is clearly sleeping through all of the action and startles awake only to quickly protest that she was not, in fact sleeping.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Not only does Jonny Lee Miller play two Jane Austen heroes (something that I believe he is unique to?), he also had already played a character in a “Mansfield Park” adaptation before being cast as Edmund here. He played one of Fanny’s younger brothers in the 1983 mini-series version of the story.

This Fanny Price is partially modeled after Jane Austen herself, with Fanny working as an aspiring author. Some of the bits of writing she reads in the movie come from Austen’s own early work as a teenager.

The actresses who play young Fanny and young Susan are sisters in real life.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Thought this one was pretty good:

In two weeks, I’ll the 2007 version of “Mansfield Park.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” Part II

45032Book: “Mansfield Park”

Publication Year: 1814

Book Description: Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

Part I – Chapters 25 – End

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Henry Crawford continues his stay and attention to Fanny. Much to her dismay, he even proposes renting out the home destined for Edmund, with the idea that Edmund can stay on at Mansfield Park once he takes orders. Fanny is dismayed by this plan, both its implications towards Edmund as well as herself.

Eventually, the idea of hosting a ball during William’s stay takes hold and arrangements begin to be made. While Edmund debates the chances of a future with Miss Crawford (whose dislike of the clergy has been well, and rudely, established, Fanny’s mind is occupied by finding a necklace to wear with a small cross that William gifted her. On a visit to Miss Crawford, Miss Crawford presents Fanny with an array of her own chains to choose from. Fanny resists, but after much pressing, finally selects the chain that she feels Miss Crawford is most often putting forward and thus most likely to wish to part with. She then discovers that the chain had been a gift from Mr. Crawford and attempts to give back, to no avail. She suspects that Mr. Crawford himself had some hand in this affair. Later, Edmund presents Fanny with a simple chain that he had purchased for her for the same purpose. Fanny is gratified to find that Miss Crawford’s chain won’t fit the cross, but determines to wear both chains together in acknowledgement of each gift.

The day of the ball arrives, and Fanny is horrified to learn that she is meant to open the ball, and with Mr. Crawford nonetheless. For his part, Mr. Crawford continues to lavish attention on Fanny, Fanny continues to be put off by it, and Miss Crawford continues to push the attachment, confused by Fanny’s reluctance. Over the course of the evening, Sir Thomas, himself, becomes more and more convinced of Mr. Crawford’s sincere attentions to his niece.

William leaves the next day, Edmund goes away for a week as well, and Mr. Crawford, too, goes to London,leaving spirits much depressed. Miss Crawford realizes she misses Edmund and confides in Fanny about it. Mr. Crawford, for his part, confesses to Miss Crawford that he is going to propose to Fanny; she is shocked. Both siblings laugh at the shock this will bring to the two Bertram sisters. The next morning, Mr. Crawford arrives when Fanny receives the news that William has received a promotion and she learns that he had went to London to have his Uncle see to just this event. He then uses this opportunity to begin confessing his feelings to Fanny, much distressing her. She negates all of this and rushes away. She is made further uncomfortable by receiving a note from Miss Crawford insinuating much about Fanny’s soon-to-be relationship to herself. Fanny writes back a note saying she knows neither Miss Crawford or Mr. Crawford mean anything by it.

The next day, however, Sir Bertram finds Fanny in her room (he notices that she has no fire) and announces that Mr. Crawford had come to speak him that very morning, asking for Sir Thomas’s blessings on his plans to ask Fanny to marry him. Fanny is shocked and tells Sir Thomas there must be a mistake as she had clearly rebuffed Mr. Crawford just the other day on this very topic. Sir Bertram is shocked as well, asking several times for clarification that Fanny means to be refusing Mr. Crawford. Fanny is dismayed to find that in a man whom she had thought so just, that her simple answer of disliking Mr. Crawford is not enough of a reason for her to deny marrying him. Sir Thomas gives a harsh speech in which he calls Fanny obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful, making Fanny cry bitterly. Sir Thomas sends Mr. Crawford away and has Fanny take a walk to calm herself. When she returns to her room, there is a fire to warm the room.

When Fanny finally does have to speak to Mr. Crawford, she is dismayed to find that he is unrelenting, even in the face of her firm refusals. Fanny, at least, thinks they are firm, but her gentle nature tempers everything she says. What’s more, Mr. Crawford, really believing himself in love, cannot fathom the idea of not succeeding. For his part, when Sir Thomas speaks to Mr. Crawford later, he is encouraged by Mr Crawford’s steadiness of purpose and believes him in his idea that Fanny will come around. Sir Thomas decides to recuse himself from all further proceedings, and tells Fanny that they need no longer discuss it and he will no longer push the alliance on her. But her aunts must be told of what is going on.

Edmund returns home and is informed of all that has happened. He’s not as shocked as Sir Thomas, but takes his father’s view of it being generally a good thing that he is hopeful Fanny will realize for herself. But he knows enough of Fanny not to push the topic on her or embarrass her further about it. When witnessing the two together, however, Edmund doesn’t know if he could have gone on wooing a woman who so clearly wasn’t expressing any interest back. Crawford, however, persists.

The next day Edmund and Fanny walk about together. Fanny is gratified to know that Edmund does not blame her for refusing, but they do disagree about whether there is any future there. Fanny proclaims there is not, while Edmund says they have enough things in common to make it work. Fanny suspects Edmund may be trying to talk himself into more comfort about himself and Miss Crawford without realizing what he is doing. Fanny, in her attempts to make Edmund understand her true qualms about Mr. Crawford’s character, even brings up the disastrous play and Crawford’s toying with Maria and making Mr. Rushworth jealous. It becomes clear that Fanny, still, has a much better grasp on that entire affair than Edmund. The conversation ends with Edmund realizing Fanny wishes to speak no more of it, and Fanny realizing that Edmund is too caught up in Miss Crawford to perfectly understand what she, Fanny, is saying.

Miss Crawford visits one last time before she and her brother mean to leave the for a period of time. Fanny learns during this meeting that it had been entirely Mr. Crawford’s idea that Miss Crawford should offer Fanny a chain for her cross and had given her just the one Fanny took for that purpose. Fanny also tells Miss Crawford that she saw Mr. Crawford’s treatment of Fanny’s cousins, and, thus, could not take him seriously with regards to herself. Miss Crawford laughs the whole thing off and takes her leave.

William comes home again to Portsmouth to and Sir Thomas, after consulting Edmund, decides that this would be a good opportunity for Fanny to not only spend more time with her beloved brother, but to visit the rest of her family as well. He also suspects that a longer visit back home will encourage Fanny to miss Mansfield and the luxuries of the life she has become used to, the life that Mr. Crawford is offering her. Fanny is delighted by the scheme, eager to visit the rest of her family. Before leaving, Edmund hints that he will write Fanny when he “has anything meaningful to write about;” Fanny mentally braces herself for this future announcement.

Home is not how she remembers it. It is too loud, to uncivilized, and overall too much for Fanny’s weak nerves. She sees poor behavior everywhere about her and is saddened to see a mother much in over her head and seeming to have no idea of it herself, and a father who drinks and goes out on the town too much. She also finds herself to be largely an afterthought to many of her family members. For his part, William’s ship is soon called away, and Fanny finds her happy homecoming scheme to be largely a disappointment.

Eventually, Miss Crawford writes and notes that she has met with the Rushworths and Julia; she also notes how discomposed Mrs. Rushworth became at the mention of Fanny and Mr. Crawford. As Fanny’s stay continues, she finds worth in one of her siblings, a younger sister Susan who, while often lead astray, still seems to sense what is right and wrong in her family. Fanny makes an effort to spend more time with this sister and hopefully instill in her some of the same lessons that she, Fanny, learned from Edmund while growing up.

For his part, Edmund is now due in town and Fanny anxiously waits to hear from him and his meetings with the Crawfords. Alas, no word comes, week after week. Instead, Mr. Crawford himself makes a sudden appearance at her home. After catching up some, they go for a walk where Fanny is dismayed to find them quickly running into her father. Luckily, Mr. Price is on his best behavior and does not shame Fanny too badly. Mr. Crawford visits the next day as well. He notes her fatigued looks and asks when she is to return to Mansfield, noting that he has seen their treatment of Fanny and that she can be often forgotten. He offers to fetch her at a moments notice. Eventually, he takes his leave.

Eventually, Edmund writes. Much of his subject revolves around his pains at Miss Crawford’s changed spirits while in the company of her friends. He sees all of her formerly bad spirits coming up again; but at the same time, he confesses that he cannot give her up and is the only woman he can think of as a wife. He also notes that he has seen Mr. Crawford and Maria together and can admit that they did not meet as friends. Shortly after this letter’s arrival, Fanny gets one from her Aunt Bertram who notes an upsetting event: Tom has fallen severely ill while travelling with friends. Over the next few days, Fanny hears more and more. Tom is removed to Mansfield Park and everyone is distressed by how poorly he is doing.

Among these regular notices, Fanny once again hears from Miss Crawford. In this letter, Miss Crawford casually talks about Tom’s eventual death and all the benefits this will see to such a deserving younger brother as Edmund. She also mentions that Mr. Crawford is heading off to visit some friends where Maria Rushworth is also currently visiting. A week or so passes before Fanny hears again, this time in just a short note from Mary that mysteriously alludes to some scandalous rumor involving Henry that Fanny should disregard completely.

A few days later,  Fanny learns what this rumor is from a notice in the paper: Maria had run off with Mr. Crawford. And a few days later, still, Fanny finally hears from Mansfield in a letter from Edmund confirming the notice in the paper and adds even more bad news in the form of notifying her of Julia’s elopement with Mr. Yates. But the good news includes the fact that Edmund will be coming the very next day to fetch her and that Sir Thomas has even extended an invitation for Fanny to bring along Susan back with her.

Edmund comes and they all journey back to Mansfield, where Fanny is greeted with much enthusiasm from her Aunt Bertram who had truly been missing her. The entire family persists in misery, though Fanny does think to herself that now, at least, she must be fully justified in her refusal of Mr. Crawford. Eventually, Edmund tells Fanny of his last interactions with Miss Crawford. He had been invited to see her after the scandal with her brother had gotten out, and he went with all the strong feelings that he attributed to her and knowing that she must know this will be their last visit as friends. But instead, Miss Crawford spoke with only a modicum of seriousness and persisted on referring to the entire affair as only “folly” and bemoaning only that the whole thing had not been better hidden. She even goes so far to say that if Fanny had only accepted Mr. Crawford he would have too busy to have gotten into this mess. Edmund admits that the Miss Crawford he’d been pining over for the last several months had been a woman of his own imagination.

While the others get through their struggles, Fanny at least is happy for once. For most, her value has been finally recognized, she is free from Mr. Crawford, and Edmund is freed of the influence of his sister. Sir Thomas struggles the longest, having to recognize the failings in education given to his daughters who behaved so wrongly. Tom recovers, both physically and gaining some level of sense and duty. Maria fails to convince Crawford to marry her and ends with nothing more than a fall from society, divorce from her rich husband, and Mrs. Norris’s company in her solitude (Sir Thomas comes to recognize all the evils of Mrs. Norris, so the situation is seen as a winning one.) Eventually, Edmund comes to realizes how superior a woman he has right in front of him and professes his love for Fanny.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Fanny definitely comes into her own more in this second half. First, she stands up for herself and for her choice to refuse Mr. Crawford even in the face of all the displeasure of the Mansfield party. Sir Thomas, though he improves later, is initially quite harsh with Fanny, and while she’s hurt to think that he views her this way, she never falters in her convictions. Even to Edmund, the one person she’s always looked to for guidance, she trusts her own judgement rather than his (though, of course, she’s had ample evidence of his failures to really discern people’s characters as he’s gone on and on about Mary Crawford for the last several months).

Second, when she faces all of the disappointment and hardship at her home in Portsmouth, she still finds a way to be useful and to put to practice what she’s learned from Mansfield and Edmund. She recognizes the good qualities in her younger sister Susan and takes her under her wing, hoping to help her cope with her situation and grow into a better woman than much of the rest of the family. This pays off to such an extent that Susan, too, is brought to live at Mansfield, and, we can presume, to thrive.

Here, too, when Mr. Crawford comes to visit, she’s not swayed even by his improvements. She notes that he seems gentler and more caring of those around her, and she inwardly praises him for it. But as far as her own scruples go, she sees these improvements only in the light that, if he is this much better at caring for others, he will quickly realize how hurt she is by his continued pursuit of her and give her up for good. She never wavers about accepting him.

And, when she gets Edmund’s letter bemoaning Miss Crawford’s modern flaws but still insisting that she’s the only woman for him, Fanny becomes quite sharp (if even only in her own mind.) She practically calls Edmund foolish for delaying asking Miss Crawford if he’s so set on marrying her, and thinks he’s set on dooming himself, regardless of his own better insights and the knowledge that she, Fanny, has shared with him.

She’s also aware enough to be critical of Sir Thomas for delaying fetching her once Tom becomes ill, as Lady Bertram clearly suffers for Fanny not being there during this tough time. Many of these moments are small and never actually spoken aloud by Fanny, but it’s still a big change from the Fanny of the first half who just seemed to go along believing everything that was told to her.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Man, it’s almost hard to list Edmund as a “hero.” At best, he’s completely delusional about those around him, and at worst he willfully ignores his own better judgement and that of a woman he professes to respect, Fanny. Again and again, we see Fanny attempt to point out to him the inconsitencies in his views of Miss Crawford and the reality of what she says and does, and he just refuses to see it! And then writes letters to Fanny, even, bemoaning Mary’s latest issues (blaming her friends for leading her astray, though Fanny is quick to realize that it’s likely the other way around) while at the same time proclaiming that she’s the only woman he can see himself marrying. I mean, I get it, he’s infatuated with her. But this is coming about 85% of the way through the book, and it’s a bit hard to really respect him when he’s so willfully blind. We’ve been told he has good judgement, but in reality, the book doesn’t offer a whole lot of evidence of it. He’s also a terrible listener to Fanny.

While he doesn’t push the connection with Mr. Crawford on her, he also seems completely clueless  about why Fanny is not attached to him. Edmund blames Mr. Crawford’s approach as being poor, rather than truly understanding anything about Fanny herself, even when she’s blatantly (well, for her, she’s being blatant) telling him why she’s not interested. To his credit, he knows when to back off, but again, it’s because he seems to think she’ll come around on her own better without people prying than understanding that what she really needs is someone to BELIEVE WHAT SHE IS SAYING.

He so much doesn’t listen to her that when Crawford finally does show his true colors and run off, Edmund attributes Fanny’s poor health to her deep feelings for Henry. And then he piles on by immediately pivoting to how much worse he has it for being longer attached to Mary Crawford than Fanny was to Mr. Crawford. It’s pretty bad, when you really look at it. And then, in the end, sure, he comes around. But…like I’ll talk about in the romance section, it’s a bit too little too late to redeem much “heroism” for poor Edmund. He’s not a bad guy by any means, but he sure doesn’t seem to deserve Fanny, and it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not the weakest of Austen’s romantic leads.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

The villains in this book all get their comeuppance in quite the dramatic fashion. No half measures here! The groundwork had all been laid for both Crawford siblings, so it’s really no surprise when they both show their true colors. But man, they both do it in quite the extreme way! Of the two, it’s almost more shocking that Mr. Crawford would stoop so low. It’s one thing to be an obnoxious flirt, but it’s entirely another to go all the way and run off with a married woman. That’s the kind of thing that, while unequal between the man and the woman in this time period, would still have a lasting affect on his reputation. Before, his other flirtations were of the sort only really noticed by the very discerning and only truly felt by his targets. He could move through society easily enough doing all of that with very few negative affects taken on himself. But his future now seems pretty grim.

Miss Crawford, on the other hand, her big villain moments seem completely in line with what we’ve seen from her before. Fanny always pointed out how thoughtless Mary Crawford was and how very wrongly she thought about things on a truly moral level. So here, when we read the letter she sends pretty much congratulating herself on Edmund’s “good fortune” on the death of his older brother and incoming inheritance, it’s bad, but not shocking. And then that she would talk about the entire Henry/Maria matter in such a cavalier manner to Edmund…more of the same of what we’ve heard from her. As readers, we’ve also been privy to private conversations between Mary and her brother and have heard her express pretty cold, laughing comments about his flirtations with women. So, to the reader, it’s no shock that she would continue to talk about his actions in this way. But to poor, poor, delusional Edmund…oof.

And, of course, Maria and Mrs. Norris get the mutual reward of a lifetime together in their shared displeasure and poor temperaments.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Oh, the romance in this book. Or, more to the point, the lack of romance. I obviously haven’t re-read the last two books in this review series yet, but I’m pretty confident in making the proclamation that this is the least romantic of Austen’s fully-realized and published novels. Not only does the hero spend 99% of the book infatuated with another woman, when he does come around to falling in love with our heroine, we literally see zero of it. Austen simply informs us that when the time was right, his feelings changed towards Fanny, and Fanny was happy about it. No dialogue, no romance scenes, no build-up. Just stated as a fact, almost an afterthought, even. It’s pretty anticlimatic, even for Austen, who, as we’ve established so far, often skipped out on really writing the final romance scenes (or at least much dialogue for them).

Instead, again, like the first part of the book, we hear a lot more about all the failures of relationships. We see Henry Crawford cave to his own inner demons even though we’re lead to believe that he did truly love Fanny (the omniscient narrator tells us so, so I guess we have to believe it, much as it grates on modern readers who may recognize his type). Mary, too, spoils her chances at happiness with Edmund and almost seems to ruin herself for future men, having a hard time in the comparisons to him. Maria ends up divorced and living along with Mrs. Norris. Julia does better than the others, but, again, based on what we actually saw of Mr. Yates, he doesn’t seem like that much of a catch and more one that was made hastily by Julia in an attempt to retain freedom than due to any real attachment. It’s all pretty glum.

Instead of the romance, most of the joy of the ending of the book is seeing Fanny finally elevated to the position she deserves. Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas both recognize her as the best “daughter” they had in the lot. She’s useful to her sister Susan, bringing her to the Mansfield party where her life is sure to be improved. And, of course, she’s rewarded with Edmund. Some have interpreted this ending as Edmund being rewarded with Fanny, but, really, I think it goes the other way. She’s the one to get what she wanted through the entire book, the one to actively wish for something that is gained in the end. And Edmund seems so passive in the entire affair that it makes much more sense to me that he is the reward.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There is also even less comedy in this half than the first. We don’t see any more of Mr. Rushworth, and as Fanny spends so much of her time away from Mansfield, Lady Bertram’s opportunities to provide humor are also greatly reduced. There may be a sort of dark humor to be found in Fanny’s family in Portsmouth, but as we hear so much about the negatives of it all, it’s hard not to see most of it in a sad, tragic sort of light.

Mrs. Norris, for her part, also recedes into the background. Again, we don’t see much of her, and by the time we do, she’s suffering the loss of her beloved Maria and quickly losing popularity among the rest of her family. There’s a line in the end of the book about how she was never able to gain the love of those she loved. Which is just sad! Even for such a mean-spirited character.

So, um, yeah. Not much comedy. It’s pretty easy to see why Austen might have needed a pivot to the much more comedic “Emma” after writing this book.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

Poor, silly Edmund:

His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away, nobody could tell how.

And, the classic Edmund reproach:

Fix, commit, condemn yourself.

And finally:

She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having what is too good for them he was steadily earnest in the pursuit of the blessing.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Mansfield Park” is a strange Jane Austen novel. It stands out for having much less comedy and much less romance than her other standard books. Fanny, too, is unlike any of the other heroines we typically find. And Edmund…well, he barely counts as a hero. It is gratifying to get to the end and have Fanny so rewarded for dealing with just so many terrible people, but that still leaves 99% of the book reading about her being abused by them. Even Edmund regularly forgets Fanny and/or fails to really listen to what she is telling him.

In many ways, as I’ve noted before, this book seems to spend a lot more time emphasizing just how wrong people can get it in the romance department. Even the good ones like Edmund who is so thoroughly taken in by Miss Crawford. All of the marriages we see are at best indifferent ones, and at worst, openly hostile, like the aunt and uncle who raised the Crawfords. In this second half, we get to see first hand how badly Fanny’s parents’ marriage is going as well, their temperaments seeming mutually unsuitable.

And by the end of the book, it almost seems like only through the sheer luck of Mr. Crawford’s poor self control that we escape two other bad marriages, that of Edmund and Mary Crawford, and, according to the narrator, the eventual marriage of Fanny and Crawford (there’s a decent sized section devoted to how, had Crawford persisted and Edmund and Mary married after all, Fanny likely would have given in after moving on from Edmund. The idea sits uncomfortably, but lucky us, we don’t have to see it.)

This book is more of a struggle for many Austen fans for all of these reasons, I think. It’s also one of Austen’s longest titles, and given the lack of comedy and romance, much of that page time is devoted to either unlikable characters or long discussions/speeches on topics that aren’t necessarily that compelling to modern audiences (like the role of a clergyman in society). For these reasons, it’s definitely the last one I suggest when people ask me where to start with Jane Austen. You have to be a pretty established fan to be able to read this book and get the good things out of it. It is funny, but mostly in the dry, sometimes hard to recognize way that Austen can be at times. And Fanny is the type of heroine that you have to believe is a heroine due to past experience with Austen’s work.

It’s also a very hard story to adapt as a film. We’ll be looking at two examples over the next few weeks, both with very different approaches to how they manage it.

In two weeks, I’ll review the 1999 movie version of “Mansfield Park.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” Part I

45032Book: “Mansfield Park”

Publication Year: 1814

Book Description: Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

As her first book conceived and written as an adult, “Mansfield Park” reads tonally very different than her prior two works. Lacking the wit and sparkle of “Pride and Prejudice” and memorable characters of “Sense and Sensibility,” it was received with mixed reviews from its critics. That didn’t stop it from selling out its first run within six months.

The story takes a much more serious approach and spends time exploring themes that were important to Austen, now in her upper 30s. The Bertram families connection to plantations in Antigua and slavery are heavily touched on. The book also explores themes of infidelity, loyalty, and the exploration of the role that the clergy and faith play in the lives of the upper class.

This more serious approach appeals to some readers, both the modern ones and the book’s contemporaries. But others struggled with this tonal change and were perplexed by its heroine, Fanny Price, a young woman much out of line with the previous strong women to grace Austen’s pages. Though Fanny is of a more quiet sort, her strengths of perception, duty, and propriety never fail her, making her more alike to Eleanor Dashwood than any other character. However, the amount of page time dedicated to her actual speeches is much reduced than other heroines, leaving readers to pick up on the smaller, more subtle clues into Fanny’s true worth.  (source)

“I have something in hand—which I hope on the credit of P. & P. will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining.”– Jane Austen

Part I – Chapters 1 – 25

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Of three sisters, one marries well, becoming Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park. One marries in a middling way, becoming Mrs. Norris. And one marries for passion, but poorly, and becomes Mrs. Price. As the years pass, Mrs. Price feels the weight of many children and increasing poverty. Always looking to be useful (but to avoid expense), Mrs. Norris convinces her sister and brother-in-law, Sir Thomas, to take on one of Mrs. Price’s children as a ward. And so Fanny Price comes to live with them in Mansfield Park.

There, she finds an intimidatingly proper and uptight uncle, a lazy and selfish aunt, and another aunt, Mrs. Norris, who makes it her life’s work to remind Fanny how lucky she is to be living among her betters and how she must never forget how unimportant she herself is. Her cousins, Maria and Julia, though taught well, think much of themselves and care little for Fanny. Her oldest cousin, Tom, is too old to even notice her. And her only ally becomes her staunch friend and defender, the second oldest, Edmund. Over the years, it is only he who remembers to look out for Fanny and put her interests forward. Being reserved and polite to the point of silence, Fanny never does so herself.

Over the years, Fanny grows up and very little changes in her life. Her only connection to her family of origin is in letter writing with her brother William whom her uncle, Sir Thomas, helps into starting a career in the Navy. When Fanny is in her upper teens, it becomes necessary for Sir Thomas to travel to Antigua where the family’s sugar plantations are suffering. Though loving of his family, his removal lightens the mood greatly at Mansfield. It is lightened even further when a new set of neighbors move in bringing two young people, a Miss Crawford and her brother, Mr. Crawford. Both are elegant and entertaining, bringing much liveliness to Mansfield Park. The two Bertram sisters are particularly intrigued by the charming Mr. Crawfod. This is fine for the younger, Julia. But the elder, Maria, has been recently engaged to a rich, but not smart, gentleman, Mr. Rushworth.

At first, Edmund joins Fanny in being hesitant about the extent of Miss Crawford’s liveliness, feeling that too often her quick wits lead her astray and into moments of disrespect people and institutions that she should value more highly. But over time, Edmund becomes more and more enamored of Miss Crawford and begins to see only good in her. Fanny cannot follow him in this opinion, thinking cautiously of Miss Crawford and quite poorly of Mr. Crawford who she sees as toying with her two cousins. Edmund even verges on becoming neglectful of Fanny, borrowing out her riding horse to Miss Crawford for lessons. He realizes his error, but it still hurts Fanny, who has begun to feel more and more for her beloved cousin.

On a trip to Mr. Rushworth’s estate, Fanny’s fears for her cousin Maria come to a head as she sees her become more and more neglectful of her own fiance. At one point, while walking, Mr. Crawford and Maria send Mr. Rushworth off in search of a key to a locked gate, then shortly after he leaves, jump the fence and continue on their way without him. Fanny is distressed, even more so for being abandoned by Edmund and Miss Crawford who also make their way forward when Fanny is tired and seem to forget about her for an hour while she waits patiently. On this same trip, Miss Crawford is dismayed to learn that Edmund plans to become a clergyman in a few short months. Being neither a rich profession or a distinguished one, she is quite alarmed for she, too, has begun to imagine a future with Edmund. Fanny is dismayed to hear her speak so poorly of the profession and is astonished that Edmund tolerates even as much as he does; but he is clearly falling more and more in love with her. Mrs. Norris, who accompanies them, of course reminds Fanny just how privileged and lucky she is to experience joys like this.

That fall, Tom and his friend, Mr. Yates, join the group at Mansfield Park. Mr. Yates has the inspiring idea that they should put on a home theatrical. Everyone is all for it, except for Edmund and Fanny who protest that it is not only inappropriate but disrespectful  of Sir Thomas’s wishes, as everyone knows he would disapprove of this plan. Eventually, however, Edmund caves and takes on a role alongside Miss Crawford. Edmund justifies his change in heart as due to his wish to avoid adding stranger to their party to complete the cast, but Fanny hurts to see him become inconsistent and weak in this way.

Having managed to string both sisters along quite successfully for several months, things come to a head between Mr. Crawford, Maria, and Julia when it comes to assigning parts to the play. With only one major role for a woman left to fill, and a part that plays the love interest for Mr. Crawford’s character, Mr. Crawford shows his hand when he advocates for Maria to play the part. Crushed, Julia refuses to be in the play any longer. Maria is exultant in her triumph and pays less and less attention to her betrothed. Fanny tries to bring up her concerns to Edmund, but he doesn’t see it.

A few days before the play is to be put on, Sir Thomas arrives back home unexpectedly. With his arrival comes a swift conclusion to everything having to do with the play. He is disappointed in Edmund for allowing to happen, as well as Mrs. Norris, whom he depended upon to argue his point in situations like this while he was gone. Mr. Yates, whom Sir Thomas strongly disapproves of, makes a quick exit. So, too, follows Mr. Crawford who make very few excuses or goodbyes before leaving abruptly. Maria’s hopes are dashed, and instead she becomes even more dedicated to her marriage to Mr. Rushworth which will afford her wealth and independence. After the marriage, she and Julia depart to Brighton.

Now, as the only young lady in the house, Fanny’s position is brought further forward. Miss Crawford seeks her out as a companion, and Fanny, to Mrs. Norris’s horror, is asked to spend time with her and even attend a dinner party. Fanny sees this more as an obligation than as a joy as she is continually pained by brief moments of Miss Crawford’s inappropriateness as well as the growing attachment she sees forming between Miss Crawford and Edmund.

At her first dinner party, Mr. Crawford suddenly reappears. He means only to stay for a few weeks, but seeing an intriguing and new conquest in Fanny, he decides to stay on later. Her complete disinterest and coldness towards him only inspires him further. Miss Crawford laughs at his exploits and tells him not to toy with her too much. Luckily Fanny is warded by more than just a dislike for Mr. Crawford, but with a previous attachment to Edmund. She begins to appreciate some of Mr. Crawford’s charms, but can never forget his cruel treatment of her two cousins.

A true joy comes to Fanny in the arrival of her brother William who is currently on shore from his duties in the Navy. Sir Thomas is pleased to see him coming along well, and Fanny is in raptures having a beloved sibling by her side, someone whom she doesn’t fear, or feel inferior of, or feel obligated to. Mr. Crawford finds more opportunities to gain points in Fanny’s book by lending William his hunter for the majority of William’s stay.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Fanny is definitely a very different heroine to the types we’ve met before. She’s probably most like Eleanor, but with much less confidence in her own judgement. Like Eleanor, readers can fairly quickly identify Fanny’s views as the ones to hold as correct. But Fanny herself rarely voices them, and those around her, excepting Edmund, rarely know that what she is thinking. Even Edmund dismisses Fanny’s concerns about Miss Crawford in general, and the play specifically. He seems to agree with her overall, but in actions, chooses to ignore her warnings. Fanny sees what Mr. Crawford is about, warns Edmund as much as she is able, and he still does nothing. When even her most staunch supporter is not truly valuing the wisdom she has, and when the rest of her life is full of either being ignored or openly scolded, it’s no wonder that Fanny would be as reserved as she is. She is given not practical evidence that her opinions are being held of any value, and it’s to her best credit that she still stands firm behind them. And even if she doesn’t voice them often, she never wavers in her evaluation of those around her.

At some points in the story, it almost seems as if Fanny is suffering from a sort of Stockholm syndrome. Particularly where her Aunt Norris is concerned. She seems to understand, on one hand, how horrid Aunt Norris is in general, but she also has moments where she believes her all to well and is even thankful for her pointing out how lucky she, Fanny, is.

I think it is this sort of excess humility and gratitude for common decency that leaves many readers turned off by Fanny. That combined with the fact that she rarely ever speaks. We’re privy to what’s in her mind, but the book is definitely lacking the strong speeches from its heroine that books that came before had. When Fanny does speak, it often feels like she’s only saying half of what she should or indulging in a poetical moment of whimsy over nature or the clergy or some such subject. Which, while interesting enough, doesn’t really hold up to the witty speeches of Elizabeth Bennett or the strong sense of Eleanor Dashwood. And for modern readers, these lengthy speeches devoted to topics such as these can be a bit dull, especially if that’s most of what you have from your main character.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Edmund is a strange sort of hero and an even stranger romantic hero. Indeed, most of his heroic deeds are mostly limited to acts of kindness given from a beloved brother. It is clear that this is how Edmund himself views the relationship, even if Fanny begins to see him differently.

He’s also an odd hero in that we see a lot of his flaws almost from the very beginning. He falls for Miss Crawford very quickly, despite correctly identifying several of her faults right from the start. But, like all fools in love, he quickly begins to dismiss these, even when they are directly targeted towards things he holds dear, like his future profession as a clergyman. We also see her influence lead him astray. His only moments of true neglect of Fanny all come in service of following Miss Crawford’s whims and desires. Miss Crawford wants to learn to ride, so Fanny is deprived of a horse for several days before he finally notices her declining health. Miss Crawford wants to explore further at Mr. Rushworth’s estate, so Fanny is left behind on a bench for much longer than is polite or considerate. And, worst of all, he rightly expresses disapproval of the acting scheme they all take up, but is soon drawn in under only the barest of excuses.

Further, he is an odd hero to modern audiences as many of his kindnesses towards Fanny are phrased around his improving her mind and directing her interests. To those not familiar with the language of the time or unable to firmly root themselves in the specific place and time, this type of language can sound demeaning at best, and at worst, a bit like grooming. Obviously, fans of Austen’s work don’t read it this way, but it does probably add to why Edmund is one of the more forgotten of Austen’s heroes, especially on contemporary lists.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

As I’ll get into a bit later, there aren’t a lot of comedy characters in this book. But to make up for that lack, there are a bunch of villains or quasi-villains. To some degree or another, other than Edmund, every member of the Bertram family treats Fanny  pretty poorly. The sisters and older brother ignore her. Mrs. Bertramm only really values Fanny for what she offers herself. Sir Thomas, though generally well-meaning, is intimidating and doesn’t attempt to form a truly caring relationship with his young niece. And, of course, Aunt Norris is the worst of them all.

I think Mrs. Norris truly has to be one of the most despicable characters in all of Austen’s repoirtoire, especially considering her role. Most other villains are typically caught up in the misdeeds of the romances at the heart of the story (we see two, to varying degrees, examples of that here). But Aunt Norris is just a mean, spiteful, small person all around. One has to imagine that it is her constant nagging and heartlessness towards Fanny that largely instills in Fanny the low value she places on her own wants, needs, and opinions. With a constant negative source such as an Aunt Norris influencing her from an early age, it would only be the most stout of characters who could withstand it without some sort of psychological damage. Really, Fanny comes out of it with more self-esteem than many in position would expect to have.

And, of course, we have the Crawfords. We see the flaws in both of these characters almost immediately. Being privy to private conversations, we see that Miss Crawford not only sees her brother playing with the feelings of Maria and Julia, but seems to think the entire thing is a funny joke, showing little to no empathy for her fellow women being toyed with purely for Mr. Crawford’s amusement. And Mr. Crawford, obviously, is about nothing good with his toying with both Maria and Julia. Like Fanny, we see that he attempts to string them both along as long as possible, doing just enough to keep Julia’s attention and hopes focused his way while also devoting most of his attention to the already-engaged Maria.

And both of these two are even worse when they turn their attention to Fanny. To some extent, we can be lead to believe that Mr. Crawford does end up with some true feelings for Fanny. But it is blatantly clear that he does not start out that way. She’s a challenge and nothing else. And like before, Miss Crawford just teases him and tells him not to hurt poor little Fanny too much. This is all the worse for Miss Crawford being astute enough to recognize Fanny’s inherent good qualities, qualities that both older Bertram girls didn’t have. Plus, she knows of Edmund’s love for Fanny, something that one would think would factor into her concern for Fanny’s welfare. But no.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

There is pretty much zero romance in this first half of the book for our main character. It is well-established that Fanny has feelings for Edmund, but most of her time is spent slowly reconciling herself to the fact that Edmund is falling for Mary Crawford. Given her extreme humility, she doesn’t see a future for herself with Edmund, seeing herself as not deserving of him. But she rightly also knows that Mary really doesn’t deserve him, and that Edmund is willfully blinding himself to her faults.

We’ll get to how the romance resolves at the end of the book in the second part of my review, but overall, “Mansfield Park” spends a lot more time looking at the unpleasant aspects of marriage and love and how very wrong so many people get it. How even the most reasonable people, those who seem to be the most clear-sighted, can fool themselves when infatuated with charm and beauty.

Beyond Edmund and Mary, we have the original story of Fanny’s mother marrying for love, only to be quickly disappointed by a life of poverty, excessive children, and a drunkard husband. We also have the second-hand story of Mary and Mr. Crawford’s aunt and uncle who have an unhappy marriage and, through growing up under their influence, shape these two young people’s attitudes about marriage and love. We also see Maria Bertram make a choice, not once but twice, of marriage for money. The second time, after being spurned in her love for Mr. Crawford, she’s even more willful in the choice she’s making to enter an unhappy marriage. Indeed, there are very few positives takes on love and matrimony in this entire book. It’s almost as if Austen wanted to temper her other works with their rosy pictures of love and matrimony and almost seems to go overboard here.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There are so many villains in this book that it’s hard to find characters who play much of a comedy role. Indeed, like the romance, the comedy of the story is quite restrained in comparison to the books that came before it. In that way, it’s refreshing to think of “Emma” coming after this one, what with its plethora of hilarious characters, most of whom don’t have a villainous bone in their body.

The best examples are probably Lady Bertram and Mr. Rushworth. Lady Bertram fades into the background through much of the story and plays her own part in taking advantage of her kind niece. But it’s also clear that she really does care for Fanny, even if she doesn’t know how to express it well or prioritize her feelings or care. I think one of the funniest lines in the book is when Lady Bertram falls asleep during the discussion of the play, is woken up, claims to never have been asleep, and this is mocked by her oldest son that no one would have suspected it, what with her lolling head and deep breathing.

Mr. Rushworth, of course, is good for several laughs. But he’s also so pitiable that it’s hard to not often be distracted by that. But his repeated discussion of his many speeches and wardrobe changes for the play are definitely chuckle-worthy.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

Good early quote to set the appropriate tone for Mrs. Norris throughout:

Nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.

Even early on, we see that Fanny has the right of it over Edmund, but is too unsure of herself to really put forward her opinion. Here she has a much clearer image of Mrs. Norris’s character than Edmund does, even though Edmund has grown up with her and is older than Fanny:

“I cannot see things as you do; but I ought to believe you to be right rather than myself, and I am very much obliged to you for trying to reconcile me to what must be.”

And a classic favorite, but a good one none the less:

Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Mansfield Park” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Emma Approved” [2013]

mv5bmtq0mjewndk5of5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjuznta3mde40._v1_sy1000_cr007231000_al_YouTube Series: “Emma Approved”

Release Year: 2013

Actors: Emma – Joanna Sotomura

Alex Knightley – Brent Bailey

Harriet Smith – Dayeanne Hutton

Frank Churchill – Stephen A. Chang

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

First off, as a comparison to the other YouTube adaptation I’ve reviewed in this series, I think this version is much more successful than the last. For one thing, I think we got to actually see more of the events we’re familiar with from the book on the screen. In the other version, we mostly had Lizzie telling the viewers second-hand stories or trying to re-enact them. Not only do I not thing that actress was fully up to the job, but it was always going to be a hard sell when you don’t have the actual people in front of you. Here, the casting is not only perfect and this Emma, I believe, is a strong actor, but many of the scenes and conversations from the book are included on screen. Having a larger and more varied cast really helps this version.

I’ll get into it more later, too, but this version also comes off better than the “Lizzie Bennett Diaries” in the romance arena. Alex Knightley is in the majority of the episodes, and it is the relationship between him and Emma that carries the show almost equal with Emma’s own arc of foibles and ultimate self-realization. Due to his being around for so much more of the story, and for the audience to have plenty of opportunities to see him and Emma together, their ultimate romantic conclusion is much less awkward and weird to watch from a viewer perspective.

As a comparison to the book, I think it does really well. It really hits most of the major plot points, and the set-up of Emma and Alex running a match-making/event organizing company really works well for much of it. I loved the clever interpretation it brought to many of the characters and important scenes. They also threw in a bunch of lines from the book that are sure to please avid “Emma” lovers.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this version more than the other. I had wondered whether simply viewing these a second time was part of my struggle with “The Lizzie Bennett Diares,” but I really enjoyed this one, probably as much as the first time. So, I think this one is just better overall. I think the story is probably better suited for this type of thing. The acting was better. And overall, it just came together in a much more seamless, natural way.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I really like Joanna Sotomura’s take on Emma. I think she nails the essential elements of the character. She’s charming, witty, and overly confident. But also endearing and sympathetic, so when she blunders, it’s easy for the viewers to be in her corner and root for her ultimate success. Even early in the show, when we see her beginning to doubt the success of the Westons’ marriage, her balance of cocky over-assurance and intervention still comes off as sympathetic when paired with her obvious concern. It’s clear that she values her reputation as a success, but we also never doubt that she cares about those around her.

All of this is even more striking once Caroline Lee shows up. Alex Knightley even compares the two, saying they have a lot in common about interfering in other’s lives thinking they know best. Emma protests that she is nothing like Caroline, and while we can all see the point that Alex is making, Emma is also right. It’s distinctly clear to the viewers that they are different and while Emma blunders sometimes and doesn’t see everything clearly, she, unlike Caroline, truly does care about those she thinks she is helping and hurts for them when she messes things up.

I also really like this version of Harriet Smith and Emma’s older sister, Izzy. Harriet is a perfect modern adaptation of the character we have on the page. She clearly idolizes Emma, and while I, personally, don’t put much stock in fashion choices as a major personal improvement, we do see her gain confidence in herself.

And Izzy’s struggles with her husband are very relatable, not being able to stand up for herself in the face of her husband’s strict adherence to financial planning. Here, too, we see Emma really shine as she sees a problem that no one else, including Izzy, sees and manages to fix, albeit with a few bumps in the road. It’s actually one of the few moments where Alex’s Knightley’s criticisms of her come off as the least sympathetic, as anyone hearing Izzy’s account of how her requests have been constantly denied can see that Emma has the right of the situation, not Alex or his brother. Complaints that John feels like choices are being made behind his back land on supremely unsympathetic ears to my mind. But I’m also biased as a stay-at-home mom (for now) myself and Izzy’s situation razed my hackles immediately.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I also really like this version of Mr. Knightley. I think this is probably what stands out the most when comparing my experience watching this adaptation and “The Lizzie Bennett Diares”: there was really no escaping, there, the challenge of having your leading man absent for half of the run and then only in a handful of episodes after that. Here, Alex is almost in every single episode, and his bantering, lecturing friendship with Emma is clearly the foundation upon which all the rest of the show is built.

The actor really nails the balance between fond dismay at Emma’s actions and the more serious interventions when he sees her crossing a line. His frequent exclamations of “Emma!” are perfectly in-tune with how I’d imagine a modern Knightley would interact with Emma. The idea of them being business partners is also a clever way of keeping the two constantly in each other’s circles and Alex Knightley constantly attuned to Emma’s antics.

He also does very well with the few fights they have, lecturing Emma on her intervention into Harriet’s life (she’s not even a client!) and her poor treatment of Maddie Bates towards the end. But we also see him stand by her when it matters, catching himself in the middle of his anger about Emma’s interference in their siblings’ relationship when he realizes that Emma may truly be on to something that none of the rest of them see.

Perhaps it’s due to the increased screen time or just the character himself, but I was a much bigger fan of this actor’s Knightley than I was of Darcy in the other version. While Darcy, by the very nature of the character, is a bit harder to warm up to, the actor didn’t really have enough “oomf” to land him as endearing once he did arrive. It’s a very hard line to walk, trying to make a romantic hero who rarely smiles appealing. So this character was probably much more easy, but I still think credit goes to the actor for doing such a good job.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Mr. Elton’s character is reimagined into a snobby politician, and it’s a great alternative. He’s just as insincere and ambitious as the original character, and it’s easy for audiences to quickly see that Emma is sniffing up the wrong tree with him. There’s also a great adherence to the original story with Emma misunderstanding who gifts (poems in the original, flowers/yogurt/concert tickets here) are for. And then later Emma writes a song to have Harriet perform, and Elton Tweets it out, with Emma clearly missing that he is taking the song as proof of Emma’s interest, not Harriet’s. When it all comes to a head, he is all the more unlikable for being such a stuck-up snob. This Harriet is nowhere near as “questionable” as the version in the book where things like unknown parents could be a very real detractor. What’s actually wrong with this Harriet? Nothing, other than not being as fancy as Emma or the later Mrs. Caroline Lee/Elton.

Speaking of Caroline, that has to be one of the best surprises of this entire run, and a perfect nod to fans who watched both series. Those who have know to immediately dislike her and understand her nods to “not minding documentaries.” But she’s also obviously bad enough for new viewers to not need much to equally dislike her. I love the substitution for calling Mr. Knightley “Knightley,” to calling Alex “Al.” And, of course, Emma’s complete disgust at it all.

Frank Churchill is also perfectly cast. I have to imagine he watched some other versions of “Emma” before taking this part as there seem to be direct nods to other actors’ versions of the part in the way he performs it. Even in the delivery of his lines, he just fits perfectly alongside all the other variations of this character we’ve seen. And, in a satisfying twist to the story, his truly bad actions, like flirting with Emma and dismissing Jane so harshly, are not swept under the rug. Instead, she dumps him, and the show ends with him realizing he wants her back and will have to work for it. It’s a dose of justice for the Jane Fairfax character who I always sided with Mr. Knightley on: “I feel sorry for her.”

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance in this show is probably almost as important as the depiction of Emma herself. Unlike the book, to most media consumers, it’s pretty obvious from the start that Emma and Alex are endgame, thus their chemistry and interactions are important from the very first. Luckily, these actors have great chemistry together, and their teasing, friendly relationship is just the sort that appeals to fans of rom-coms.

We never see anything truly overt on either of their sides throughout most of the show, but it’s still pretty clear. Alex’s early dislike of Frank Churchill is probably the biggest clue on his part. And, of course, Emma’s dismissal at her friend’s theories about Alex and Jane speak to her unknowing interest in him.

I really liked how they played Emma’s realization about her true feelings for Alex. The actor really manages to nail the shock of Harriet’s confession and then through mostly subtle facial expressions, demonstrate Emma’s change of heart. It’s also really great how they play the scene where Emma is trying to be a good friend to Alex but puts him off from his confession due to her concerns that he is about to confess his love for Harriet. When she chases after him again, there’s some really nice humor in her trying to build herself up to hear the news. And then, later, Alex’s question about what she thought he was about to say when the truth.

I also really like the final payoff we get for a running joke we see throughout about flowers being romantic. Early on, Elton brings Harriet a new kind of yogurt and flowers for Emma. And it is only after the whole debacle comes to light that Emma has to re-orient herself with a new mantra: “Food means friendship. Flowers mean romance.” So it’s really great to see this come around again when Alex gives her flowers, and she, bewildered, says “But…flowers mean romance.” It’s very sweet.

On a general note, I also found this romance much less voyeuristic and uncomfortable to see come to a head. I’m not sure why. It’s probably some combination of the increased screen time for the romantic hero. The fact that the Alex character is just much easier to see in a romance plot line than the version of Darcy we had in the other YouTube series. Or the simple fact that these actors had better chemistry. It also probably helps that we see their entire relationship progress and the fact that they are so comfortable with each other from the start makes the audience more comfortable as well. Lizzie and Darcy were so awkward together that it’s no wonder they made others uncomfortable watching them!

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Emma and Alex do most of the heavy lifting as far as the comedy goes as well. They by far get the most screen time and, with their character arcs, have the most opportunities to take advantage of comedic elements in the story. Harriet is too sincere much of the time to really be funny. Jane Fairfax is almost too serious to really like in this version.While I like that her relationship with Frank Churchill ends, this was probably the one character in this show who seems the most different than their book counterpart. She’s almost so snobby in her “do-goodery” that one finds oneself coming down on Emma’s side of their conflict. In the book, it’s clear that Jane is a good natured, though quiet, woman and most of Emma’s problems with her are based purely in the fact that she makes Emma insecure. Here, however, Jane is kind of off-putting, making Emma’s discomfort feel completely natural.

This mostly leaves Maddie Bates to carry the rest of the weight for the comedy side of things. And she’s great! I really love how they carried over Mrs. Bates deafness and how Maddie Bates will dictate back conversations with her mother by starting out “And then I said ‘MOMMA!'”, yelling that last word at the camera. It’s just great. I also really liked this version’s interpretation of the Box Hill incident. Here it’s for a restaurant opening, Boxx Hill, that Emma and her company are hosting. Maddie tries to bring forward her (terrible) home-made jams, and Emma publicly mocks her for how bad they are. It’s a perfect adaptation of the incident, and even though we don’t see it, we get to see plenty of the fall-out as Jane quits the company and Alex delivers the famous “Badly done!” line. But, of course, it all ends well with Emma apologizing to Maddie Bates, and Maddie demonstrating how truly good and kind-hearted she is by quickly forgiving Emma and working to help her in Alex’s absence.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Not a lot for this one, it seems: the actors who played Emma and Alex Knightley were dating while they filmed this. That probably helped with the good ole chemistry. They’re also both currently in a show called “Quarantine” about out-of-work soap opera cast members in L.A. Mildly interested in checking that out, mostly due to the adorableness of these two here.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Just a cute little moment between these two. Really, their relationship is the funniest part of the entire thing.

In two weeks, I’ll the first half of “Mansfield Park.”

 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Clueless” [1995]

mv5bmzbmogq0nwitotzjzc00zdaxltgyotetodjiywq2ywniywvjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynte1njy5mg4040._v1_sy1000_cr006691000_al_Movie: “Clueless”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Cher – Alicia Silverstone

Josh – Paul Rudd

Tai – Brittany Murphy

Christian – Justin Walker

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

“Clueless” is definitely a movie of its time, but it’s still a blast to watch today. Similarly to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s work which means that while some things follow along pretty faithfully, there are also a lot of changes to make it work as a modern tale.

I really like the initial match-making switch. Instead of a governness, we see Cher setting up two of her teachers in an attempt to improve her grade. On one hand, this makes Cher’s reasons much more self-centered than Emma’s, but the change works well, I think. After her initial success, Cher decides that she likes helping people like she did for these two, sad, pathetic teachers. And so she takes Tai (Harriet Smith) under her wing. In many ways, her goal in helping Tai is much more centered around making Tai popular than specifically matching her up with someone. In the book, Emma had already proclaimed a desire to match Mr. Elton up before zeroing in on Harriet. Here, we see Cher directing Tai’s love life more because Tai’s original interest (a drugged up skater boy) would not be a good match for a popular girl. Elton is then selected as a proper match for someone of Tai’s aspiring popularity.

This arc then comes full circle when we see Tai become truly popular and then snap at Cher in all of Tai’s mean girl glory. So Cher’s “what have I done?” is much less about her project girl being interested in someone whom she realizes she cares for (though that is a factor), and more to do with how sweet and nice Tai had been before Cher’s meddling in her life. Luckily, on Tai seems to course correct on her own at the end of the movie.

All of the actors cast for various parts work great, and it’s definitely one of those movies where you see really young version of actors who went on to do bigger projects. Brittany Murphy, for example, is barely recognizable as Tai. And obviously Paul Rudd would go on to be a household name type actor. But even the smaller roles, like the two teachers and Cher’s father, are all pitch perfect and really help round out the movie.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Cher is probably the least likable Emma we’ve come across so far. On one hand, this is understandable because she’s the only teen version we’ve had. At 15-16, she’s four or five years younger than the version in the book and the other two adaptations I’ve reviewed. Not to mention the very different education and expectations she would face in L.A. in the mid-90s versus the Regency period. But she’s also given the fewest opportunities to show her good side as well. The movie leans in heavily to how spoiled she is, doing very little to counterbalance it with good deeds. Like in many other versions, it mainly relies on showing her care towards her father as the best look into her inherent goodness. But as her father is also less likable than other versions…

Not to say that you don’t end up rooting for the character, just that it’s a bit harder. Her constant up-speak is also a bit tough to handle, dating the movie and also signaling what is now a cliche of an entire new level. At the time, it was just a valley girl thing, but now the trope is so often connected with idiocy that it doesn’t do the character any favors to modern viewers.

I do like that the big realization moment for her is less her being rude to one individual, but seeing the type of person she’s turned Tai into. Tai was originally this sweet, friendly character. And after snapping and being rude to Cher, we see Cher realize that actual “value” of the things she’s been sharing with Tai. Tai is like a brutal mirror that is held up to Cher, and that, along with the realization about her general “clueless-ness” is enough to inspire change. It’s also pretty clear that she doesn’t do any of this in an effort to impress Josh, making it feel like the type of change that will be more lasting.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Josh is a pretty solid mid-90s teenage interpretation of Mr. Knightley. Having him being interested in a law (and with a less than stellar mother) is a good excuse for having him want to hang around Cher’s house and work with her dad. Of course, we can’t have him scolding Cher in quite the same way. It wouldn’t come off nearly as well with the age difference being so much more close and the times making it all sound much more patronizing and unappealing if he had done. Instead, we see him being more subtly critical of Cher’s superficial tendencies while at the same time clearly enjoying her company.

And, of course, no discussion about Paul Rudd can be had without acknowledging the freakishness of his lack of aging. It almost makes the age difference seem weird since he looks so much the same when he’s much older that he could just as well be in his mid-thirties in this movie as younger twenties.

I really liked that they included a version of him coming to Tai’s rescue and dancing with her. This version does a weird thing where we have the “rescue” of Tai by Christian, as well, but then it does nothing with this. It’s already established that Christian is gay at this point, and there is no inclusion of Cher becoming confused by any reference of a “rescue” by Tai. It’s kind of a weird choice. Instead, it’s used mostly to elevate Tai’s popularity which results in her later nastiness to Cher. But eh, I still like that they included the Tai/Josh dance thing. It’s a great moment for giving Cher more insight into why Josh is such a great guy.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Elton is by far the biggest “villain” in this movie. Not only is he not interested in Tai, a stuck-up ass about popularity status, and all of that. He repeatedly accosts Cher when she’s clearly said “no,” pretty much forcing her to get out of the car to avoid him. And then he leaves her in a bad part of town to be mugged. Much worse that the book version of Mr. Elton. I do like that he’s one of the few characters whose name remained the same. I guess it works pretty well for a snobby L.A. teenage boy in the 90s.

Christian, on the other hand, is really not much of a villain at all. Other than perhaps leading on Cher more than he should have, he seems like a pretty decent guy. It’s kind of unclear why he misleads her at all in the first place. He must know that she’s misinterpreting his actions, but at the same time, he’s not too subtle about hiding true orientation. Everyone other than Cher seems to see it, and we don’t see any push back in the movie itself about it. It’s definitely a unique take on her misunderstanding with this character role. This makes much more sense than any hidden romance would have, given the time period. And it’s kind of nice to have the movie end with Cher and Christian kind of being besties, instead of the tense, friendship-pretty-much-over state that Emma and Frank Churchill are in at the end of the book.

There’s also the jerk lawyer guy who snaps at Cher at the very end of the movie, thus making Josh come to her defense, thus serving as the impetus for the relationship getting started. So is he really a villain in the end?

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance in this movie does play second fiddle to the comedy. There are a few moments here and there that speak to Josh and Cher’s ultimate future, but they are scattered in between the bigger comedy scenes featuring Tai, Cher, and Dionne’s antics. We have the aforementioned dancing scene, of course.  There’s a small moment where Cher and Josh are hanging out at home watching a movie, and Cher seems to make a passing comment that sometimes having a quiet evening at home is more fun than all the social outings one could come up with.

And Josh is the one to come to Cher’s rescue after the Elton incident. This serves as a good point for Josh realizing that he’s into Cher as we see Cher correct Josh’s then girlfriend on some quote from Shakespeare. Josh smiles at this and seems not at all concerned that his girlfriend is pretty displeased at being shown up by a high schooler. And we get an even clearer idea of his interest when he follows Christian and Cher on their “date” just for “safety.” It’s very cute.

The actual romantic conclusion of them kissing on the stairs is a bit awkward, I think but fine enough. And then I think the cut to the wedding scene is pretty hilarious and a nice hats off to Jane Austen’s endings always featuring weddings of the main characters. And in this scene, the already established relationship between Josh and Cher reads as much more natural and enjoyable to witness.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Well, watching it now, there’s two sides to the comedy coin. There are the things the movie meant to be funny. And there are the things that are simply hilarious because of how dated it makes the movie feel. The very first scene, even, with Cher selecting her outfit on this old computer screen is just comical. Especially because it’s supposed to be set up as a way to establish how well-off Cher is. But to modern eyes…it’s some janky stuff.

The fashion, also, is hilarious. Even growing up in the 90s myself, it’s hard to get a good read on how accurate this way versus how much of it was blown up to extremes to show off Cher’s situation. Either way…man, gotta love it. Even Cher spends a moment (in an odd tonal break in the movie) to point out how bad men’s fashion was at the time. But, on the other hand, her friend Dionne is pretty much literally wearing a plastic bucket for a hat in the opening scene. So.

Dionne and her boyfriend don’t have any obvious parallels in the book itself that I can think of. But they play well for humor here. I especially like how all the comedic moments early on that highlight their bickering and public feuding are later tied together to show that, while they enjoy the drama in the crowd, in private they are much more caring and loving towards each other. In this way, they serve as a good example of love to Cher as she’s going through her awakening period.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

The director was asked to simply create a movie for teenagers. It was her own fondness of reading “Emma” as a teenager that inspired her to adapt that book into a teen movie.

There are 63 different costume changes in this movie.

Gwyneth Paltrow was considered for the role, but never auditioned. One would imagine she had her own “Emma” thing going around then.

While according to filming this was his second movie, “Clueless” was released first and thus is the movie that introduced the world to the lovely Paul Rudd.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

I didn’t actually do it, but I was tempted to count the number of “As ifs!” we had in this movie.

This seemed to be the most classic “Emma” moment in the entire movie:

In two weeks, I’ll review the YouTube series “Emma Approved.”