Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Only Way to Film 'Mansfield Park'

A quick review on the 1983 BBC mini-series Mansfield Park:

Which you can now find on the Film page of the Thither Shop, Films - Mansfield Park 1983.

This less-known adaptation of Jane's most serious novel is a hidden treasure, in my opinion. Maybe the most literal of any of her novels' adaptations, almost word-for-word and scene-for-scene. Some might call it "slow" or even "boring" who are used to the more recent faster-paced films which have an extra dose of the dramatic, of which I myself am also an admirer. But for those of us who also enjoy and appreciate the style of MP, that quiet, serious and even moral tone it possesses throughout, to that style this adaptation stays perfectly true. I believe that is the only way to write a script for this story. That tone cannot be justly captured unless the conversations and events are shown in almost word-for-word detail.

The most important part of the story, Fanny Price, is adapted and cast extremely well! By the talented actress Sylvestra Le Touzel, who also plays Mrs. Allen in the newest adaptation of Northanger Abbey. She appears timid, gentle and physically fragile, with that strong sense of right and delicate mind, just as Jane portrayed her. All the other actors are well-cast, including Nicholas Farrell as Edmund, who may not be the most dashing actor in the film, but he is playing Edmund who is quite the opposite of dashing anyway, and Anna Massey as the busybody Mrs. Norris.

When I tell you it's at least six hours long, you can have no difficulty in imagining just how true to the story it is! So for those who want to be transported into Jane's world of Mansfield, this is the adaptation for you. The houses, costumes and characters are all accurate (and I'm very particular about all), except I give a word of warning to some of Mary Crawford's dresses, which are a bit too 1980s at times. Otherwise, an impeccable adaptation!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Defense of Fanny Price

I've recently finished reading Mansfield Park, and a little about it as well. It's inspired me to write a "defense of Fanny," you might say. Almost every time I read a piece about Mansfield Park, the author seems to point out that most everyone (including themselves, it appears) thinks Fanny is perfect, and therefore boring and un-relatable. "How could the same author who created Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood make another heroine so timid and without flaws, who has nothing to learn?" people ask. There's no denying Jane herself did say that perfect heroines make her "sick and wicked." So why did she create a Fanny Price?

I'll first address that in reference to her other novels. In all them, with the possible exception of Persuasion, the heroines had a lesson to learn. For Lizzy, it was realizing she'd been blindly prejudiced in her evaluations of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. For Marianne, it was seeing clearly how her excessive emotions endangered herself, caused her family pain, and influenced her judgment. For Emma, it was understanding that she was not always right and that she needed to give other people credit for being able to judge rightly. But what about Fanny? Her judgments were proved to be right, her emotions were in check, and she was only too ready to be guided by other sound judgment. I believe the reason Jane didn't give Fanny a lesson to learn was because that is not the reason for this story. In Mansfield Park, Jane is showing that it's better to evaluate a person based on their past life and good character, rather than on what they seem at the moment, how entertaining they are and how they make you feel. In her contrast of Fanny and Mary Crawford, you can see this. The contrast of Edmund and Henry Crawford is another example. This attainment of good and steady character is what Lizzy, Marianne and Emma are finally given by Jane at the end of their stories. Jane is always showing the importance of character above appearance! Just because society accepts someone, doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with them, that they're perfect just because we can't see anything to censure.

Another point in reference to her novels is the fact that Fanny never seems to defend herself, especially against her controlling Aunt Norris. Whereas Jane's other heroines, particularly Elizabeth, never seem to let people walk all over them. There are two aspects to this point. First, the heroines who did defend themselves or took witty jabs at their opponents often did so with misguided and sometimes hurtful motives. And they often later regretted what they'd said. Lizzy did this to Mr. Darcy several times, like in the Netherfield sitting room,

"You wanted me, I know, to say "Yes," that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all -- and now despise me if you dare."

Now one can't argue that she made this remark to please him in any way. In fact, the next paragraph reveals that she expected him to be offended, and his gallant remark surprised her. (I think she was trying to get an ill-natured retort from him.) Of course, Lizzy did justly defend herself when she was receiving the very spiteful tieraid from Lady Catharine and rightly stood her ground in her refusal of Mr. Collins' proposal. And here -- can it be? -- we find a resemblance between Lizzy and Fanny! For Fanny was very firm in her refusal of Mr. Crawford. She knew her reasons were right and stuck to them, no matter how violently the accusations of her uncle Sir Thomas made her cry. I would venture to say that the hostility Fanny had to endure was even greater than what Lizzy faced from her obviously unwise mother. The second aspect is that due to the prevalent philosophy of our society which says that you should love yourself, and to the fact that human nature has an overwhelming bent toward thinking we are always right, most of the world doesn't understand the virtues of humility and of loving your enemy. There's no disputing that Fanny was unkindly treated and constantly, though unjustly, reminded of her inferiority. (Especially by Mrs. Norris.) But what can be argued is whether she handled that treatment in the right way. Most people say she was too timid and let her aunt get away with doing wrong. But I argue that she allowed that treatment to make her sweeter, more compassionate, and more conscious of promoting what was best for other people, regardless of herself. She found joy in other people's joy, even when she might suffer a loss for herself.

One last thing. Fanny was not perfect! And Jane never says that she is. People may like to say that she is because they feel they could never be like she is, so forgiving and self-sacrificing, which is understandable, because nothing is further from human nature. But as selfless as she is, she does have her little moments of jealousy and caring rather too much about others opinions of herself, and maybe a little tendency to look down a little on her mother's household. Most of us can identify with these feelings. One vivid moment is when she has to introduce her father to Mr. Crawford in Portsmouth -- oh, the possibilities of one's vanity being humiliated! It makes me laugh when I imagine myself in the same situation, especially when Jane writes,

"He [Mr. Crawford] must soon give her up, and cease to have the smallest inclination for the match; and yet, though she had been so much wanting his affection to be cured, this was a sort of cure that would be almost as bad as the complaint; and I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the United Kingdom, who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being sought by a clever, agreeable man, than have him driven away by the vulgarity of her nearest relations."

Jane places Fanny in a situation and gives her the same feelings that almost any young lady would have if they were in the same place! And who could not enter into her feelings of jealousy toward Miss Crawford? Even though she does endeavor to talk herself out of it, and does have the goodness of Edmund in mind (which is a good reason to not desire the match regardless of her feelings), she most definitely still does not want them to marry because she loves Edmund herself. We can all sympathise with that!

So, to sum up my defense of Fanny: Jane created her to compare steadiness of character and virtue with mere pleasing personality that has no substance behind it, a lasting substance which includes truly caring about others. Fanny possesses traits that really matter in any sort of relationship, like faithfulness, kindness, forgiveness and being willing to sacrifice her wants for the good of others. What a good friend she would make for anyone! She might be hard to get to know, but once one had earned her trust she would be a loyal and caring friend for life. She is a picture of the virtues that all Jane's heroines possess (or end up possessing), but with a quiet personality without any flashiness about it, which makes those virtues more visible. Fanny is a unique character, just as all of Jane's heroines are, unique because she was created by Jane Austen and worthy of study and appreciation for that reason alone!

Hopefully this little "defense" will give you a new perspective on Fanny and help you to appreciate one of Jane's most under-valued heroines in a way Jane intended.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Jane Austen Blend

"The post office is a wonderful establishment! The regularity and dispatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!"
- Jane Fairfax, Emma

Today I received a much-anticipated package in the post: my order of "Jane Austen Blend" tea!!

I first discovered it while visiting the tea room of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. It's the most delicious Chinese tea I've ever had! I've always thought the tea served in the many Chinese restaurants of California tasted very good, and this is the ultimate. Who'd have thought I'd find it in the guise of a Jane Austen blend? That figures. Especially in my case.

But the tea room was clean out of this tea! So as soon I came home, I Googled it and discovered it's made by Gillard's of Bath and can be ordered online! Why it's taken me a year to finally order it? Your guess is as good as mine...

I made a cup of it this afternoon and it still has the delightful flavor that I remember.

If you'd like to order some yourself (which I recommend), you can find it at:

"So seldom that any negligence or blunder appears! So seldom that a letter, among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom, is ever carried wrong -- and not one in a million, I suppose, actually lost! And when one considers the variety of hands, and of bad hands too, that are to be deciphered, it increases the wonder."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Emma' 2009 Costumes at Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton!

This may be old news to many, but I've just discovered that some of the costume's from BBC's latest 'Emma' adaptation are on display in Chawton Cottage! (I wish they had been there when we were there last year!) They won't be there much longer, only until May 16th. But if you live in England or are planning a trip over there soon, it's not too late! Amongst the costumes on display are Emma's lovely yellow printed dress and her ball gown, a suit of Mr. Knightley's, and some apparel and accessories of Mr. Woodhouse's and Jane Fairfax's.

Jane Austen's House Museum "writer in residence," Rebecca Smith, has some wonderful pictures on her blog, here:

And check out the very lovely site of the Jane Austen House Museum itself:

As a fan of Jane Austen, and of 'Emma' the novel and BBC's newest 'Emma,' this opportunity sounds beyond delightful! And I can't get over the fact that if we had gone to England this year or if they had been on display last year, we would have been in Chawton at exactly the right time. Oh, well...

Now's a good time to direct everyone's attention to the 'Emma' DVD, which has a very, very interesting and up-close documentary on the costumes, with interviews of their designer Rosalind Ebbutt, and a few shorter ones with Romola Garai, Johnny Lee Miller, Blake Ritson (Mr. Elton) and Tamsin Grieg (Miss Bates), among others. We get to see the costume closet and up-close views of some of the costumes themselves -- a feast to the eyes of anyone interested in Regency clothing and costuming! If you don't own this newest adaptation of 'Emma' on DVD, we carry it in our shop, here:

I hope some of you get to see them!