Friday, November 30, 2012

Review of 2007 Persuasion by Lisa Nelson

Persuasion. Dir. Adrian Shergold. Perf. Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Rupert Penry-Jones, Anthony Head, Amanda Hale.  ITV/BBC Television, 2007. 2 out of 4 stars.
I must admit that I was very skeptical about liking the character of Anne Elliot on film as well as I liked her in the book. It would seem to be a very hard task to make her deep thoughts and feelings known to the audience without the benefit of the play-by-play of what she is thinking and feeling that we get from Jane Austen’s detailed writing. But I was pleasantly surprised by Sally Hawkins’s strong and sympathetic performance, which was the best feature of the film. It is too bad that the rest of the film was not quite as good. Some scenes were played up for comedy, or were made entirely too dramatic, when they should have been more natural. In this adaptation the grand gestures sometimes drown out what can be breathtaking in the subtleness that Austen creates in her writing. 

Review of 1995 Persuasion by Trevor Contreras

Persuasion. Director Roger Mitchell.  Featuring Amanda Root (Anne Elliot) and Ciaran Hinds (Captain Frederick Wentworth).
BBC FILMS. Millesime Productions, 1995.
3.25/4 stars
               Mitchell’s film Persuasion is a wonderful heartbeat of Austen’s novel. Anne is a pivotal character in which the film weaves in and out a society of characters that is sometimes flamboyantly irritating, and other times darkly revealing, but always entertaining. The story begins with Anne and her family in Kellynch Hall. Her narcissistic father and sister show perfect reason why Anne’s current situation is not so fortunate, disregarding everyone but themselves. Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot basically ignore poor Anne. Adding to the dismal list is Anne’s sister Mary, whom is married to Charles Musgrove; Mary is a helpless mother that depends on her elder sister to do everything for her. The fact that Anne is the oddball out is really emphasized in these opening scenes.  

Review of Becoming Jane by Laramie Mims and Jessica Wolfe

 Directed by Julian Jarrold, released on August 10, 2007, it is a great film, but contains little accuracy regarding Jane Austen’s love affair with Tom Lefroy. The film was produced in cooperation with several companies, including Ecosse Films and Blueprint Pictures Limited. Also, it received funding from the Irish Film Board and the UK Film Council Premiere Fund.
Based largely on speculation, Becoming Jane is the story of the untold romance that inspired a young Jane Austen. The character of Jane, played by Anne Hathaway, comes onto the screen as the somewhat troublesome daughter of Rev. Austen and his wife. Jane is portrayed as a bundle of barely suppressed artistic energy from the beginning of the film as she passionately jots down the words of a future novel (First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice) in the opening scene. It is here that we are allowed the first glimpse of Jane’s willfulness and spirit, things that should hardly be found in the daughter of the average country preacher.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Film Questions for Persuasion (1995)

For Friday: Questions for the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion

NOTE: We’ll talk about the film after we finish watching it on Thursday, though these questions won’t be due until Friday at 5pm.  Next week we’ll wrap-up the course by considering what role Austen has in the college curriculum and whether or not she should remain the dominant writer in the English literary canon—the “Austen brand,” as James would have it. 

Answer ONE of the following…

1.         What are some of the most striking omissions in this version of Persuasion?  What scenes, dialogue, or characters are missing, and why do you think the director/screenwriter chose to omit them?  How do they change the tone or message of the film?  Are any of these scenes or characters necessary (do you think) to truly know the book? 

2.         Remember that in Austen’s original ending (on pp.168-177), we see the moment of “understanding” between Anne and Wentworth.  She scrapped this as too much, perhaps, and wrote the more subdued version we have today.  However, in Alan A. Stone’s review of Persuasion (the 1995 film), he chides the director for returning to this ending, because “[the original ending’s] flawed depiction indicates the kind of difficulty that beset screenwriter Dear, who took it upon himself to do what Austen could not. To accomplish his task he ignored that fact that Persuasion was a period piece.”  What do you think about this critique?  Did the director make Persuasion too modern, with its kissing and romance?  Did he go too far—even farther than Austen dared allow herself? 

3.         Discuss the characterization of Anne in the film: are we supposed to like her as much as we like the heroine in Persuasion?  Is she as wise and literate in the movie; or does she appear too passive and ‘good’?  You might also consider why the director makes her often say lines spoken by other characters in the book, such as Captain Harville’s line that “But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men” (156). 

4.         According to the director, Persuasion is the “first modern love story”.  Did you feel this when reading the book?  Does the film push us too far in reading the book as a love story, even above matters of class, satire, family, and education?  Should we ultimately celebrate modern love and its ability to defeat class and social pretension in this work?  Or does the film want us to see a “modern” Austen much more than an 1818 one? 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For Next Week: Persuasion

For next week, we'll watch the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds (which I personally think is the best Austen adaptation ever!).  Be sure you've finished the book by next week, since we'll discuss the ending in more detail, and particularly, Austen's original ending which you can find directly following the final chapter in our book. 

Also, start writing--or developing ideas towards writing--your final paper.  Don't write it at the last minute!  Use your previous writings, especially Paper #3, as material, and feel free to borrow whatever you think works.  I look at writing as a process of writing, revision, and adaptation, so it's no crime to pilfer from previous papers or even use entire paragraphs!  Writing is never "new," just as long as it's your own writing you're stealing from.  Please let me know if you run into problems or difficulties.  See you next week!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Questions for Friday (Persuasion)

For Friday: Questions for Persuasion: Chs. 1-26 (pp.3-100)

Answer ONE of the following…

1.         In Persuasion, we see Jane Austen at the end of her career (though she probably didn’t know this), and very much in a new century—the eighteen teens.  This was just before the publication of Frankenstein but well after Wordsworth and Coleridge’s major poems, as well as the works of Shelley and Byron.  How do we see Persuasion influenced by the Romantic movement in British literature?  What new touches in the work signal a ‘Romantic’ sensibility unusual in Austen’s writing?  Consider not only what the narrator focuses on/describes, but what the characters say, read, and expound to others. 

2.         In a very amusing and fantastic passage on page 27, the narrator describes the Musgrove’s house which is being invaded by a harp and a piano-forte (an old style piano—piano means “soft” and forte means “loud”).  The old-fashioned demeanor of the house is offended, as she writes, “Oh! Could the originals of the portraits against the wainscot, could the gentlemen in brown velvet and the ladies in blue satin have seen what was going on, have been conscious of such an overthrow of all order and neatness!  The portraits themselves seemed to be staring in astonishment.  As this passage suggests, much of the goings-on of Persuasion would shock and astonish the old order.  Where do we see Jane Austen pitting the new world against the old?  What innovations and ideas seem quite at odds with the more traditional, class-based ways of running the world?

3.         Discuss the education of women in this novel so far, considering characters such as Anne Eliot, Mary Eliot, the Musgrove sisters, and Mrs. Croft in particular.  What does it mean to be ‘educated’ as we move into the 19th century?  Are any of these women ‘ideals’ for Austen?  Or anti-ideals?  Does Anne share some of Lizzie and Emma’s lack of moral insight and judgment?  Does her education allow her to game play?  Or has she retired from the game already? 

4.         How does Persuasion develop Austen’s theme of mothers and fathers?  We get an usual set of parents in this book, from Sir Walter Eliot, Lady Russell (a surrogate mother, though perhaps more properly an aunt figure), and the two generations of Musgroves.  How does Austen reflect on the duties and sensibilities of parents, and their relationships with their children?  Note that this is the only book thus far that actually has young children in it!  Why do you think Austen focuses so much on the younger generation in this book? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Film Review: Mansfield Park (1999 film) by Joshua McNeeley

 Mansfield Park (Miramax Film 1999): Directed by Patricia Rozema; Starring Frances O’Conner, James Purevoy, etc.

Mansfield Park begins with Fanny Price leaving her family to live with her rich relatives. In spite of being brought up in a rich household, she is not considered equal to the rest of the family. Fanny grows up with her cousins Tom (the rebellious older cousin), Edmund (the kind, brother like figure who needs Fanny to put words to his feelings), and Maria and Julia (the two sisters who are frivolous and desiring of attention, Maria more so than Julia). Fanny is thrust into situations where she has to make a decision between her sense and her sensibility, from an offer of marriage by Mr. Henry Crawford (which she refuses due to the fact that she does not trust him for she sees his true character) to being sent away from Mansfield Park (because she refuses Mr. Crawford) to bashing heads with Miss Crawford (due to a family scandal). Mansfield Park also explores the idea of whether or not two friends can be together. According to this film, it can happen for Fanny and Edmund do get married at the end. Interestingly enough, the plot itself didn’t come off like a Jane Austen story, but the characters do seem to be true to the Austen character types from her novels.

Film Review: Emma (1996 Miramax film) by Caitlyn Stephens

 Emma. Dir. Douglas McGrath. Perf.  Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette. DVD. Miramax Films, 1996. 2 out of 4 stars
            This film adaptation is not a successful adaptation of Jane Austen. I felt that the film centered to much on Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam) getting together. If I’m being completely honest I did not think it was that great of a film. It does capture some elements from Austen’s novel Emma very well but in other places it falls flat. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Film Review: Clueless by Lindsey Duggan

Clueless. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, and Brittany Murphy.
            Paramount Pictures, 1995. Netflix. (3 out of 4 stars)
Clueless is a rather unique modern-day adaptation of Emma. It takes place in Beverly Hills. Cher is the only daughter of a very wealthy lawyer and has an ex-stepbrother, Josh, who visits on his breaks from college where he is studying law. She attends high school with her best friend Dionne, where she takes the new girl, Tai, under her wing. Cher plays matchmaker and attempts to make Tai into an acceptable girl who only uses drugs at parties. After two unsuccessful romances, the first unwanted from popular boy Elton, who goes after her instead of Tai as planned, and the second with well-dressed Christian who turns out to be obviously gay, Tai reveals that she has feelings for Josh, sending Cher into a confused panic. After some soul-searching (and shopping) she of course realizes that she is in love with Josh. The movie ends with Cher and Josh together, Tai with her original infatuation, Travis, and Cher’s friendships with Tai and Dionne in good shape. Clueless, while extremely stereotypical of Beverly Hills, does a fairly good job of preserving much of the original plot while successfully adapting it to a modern setting.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Film Review: Emma (BBC, 1996) by Hailey Wansick

Emma.  Dir. Diarmuid Lawrence.  Perf. Kate Beckinsale, Bernard Hepton, Mark Strong.  A&E Television, 1996.   3 out of 4 stars.
This adaptation of Emma is full of some of the cheesiest scenes I’ve ever seen, so of course I loved it.  It focuses a lot on Emma’s thing for matchmaking and how her imagination is always running away with her, showing more than one instance where she’ll simply see a character’s perfect match and then we’ll see where she is imagining the wedding between the two.  In Harriet’s case Emma is sitting in church after deciding she will try to find a match for Mr. Elton, looking around at all the eligible ladies, when she looks up at the window and notices that the sunlight is falling onto someone as if it were meant to be.  It is very played up, but it kind of works by showing the audience things they might not catch onto if they haven’t read the book

Film Review: Mansfield Park by Lindsi Bonar

Mansfield Park (1999) Review
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Starring: Frances O’Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola
Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, a young woman given over to the care of her rich relatives by her impoverished parents. She is raised surrounded by the comforts of affluence, although she is treated with some distinction between her and her wealthy cousins. Fanny grows up with her cousins, Tom (a money wasting cad), Edmund (the level minded younger brother, destined to be a clergyman), and their sister, Julia and Maria, who we don’t know much about unless they’re doing something terrible, like cheating on a husband. Although this film has some positive elements, it was, overall, unsatisfying to me. I’m not so sure that this film is unsuccessful in its adaptation of Jane Austen – I’m just not a fan. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Film Showing! Emma! Next Monday!

Knightley: "It was badly done indeed!" 
We'll be screening the entire 1996 BBC adaptation of Emma (with Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Olivia Williams, etc..) on Monday, November 5th at 5:30 in the Tiger Cinema.  Where is the Tiger Cinema?  It's on the top floor of the University Center near the Wellness center.  Just come to the top floor and I'll be waiting around to direct people to the right place. 

Remember, you don't have to come to the screening, but we will spend all of Tuesday's class discussing the adaptation and the choices they made.  Also, an essay in our book discusses this very adaptation of Emma, so you should read it before hand to aid in our analysis: David Monaghan, "Emma and the Art of Adaptation" (pp.449-456).  You're welcome to watch this version yourself OR watch another version, but again, I do want to discuss this version at length on Tuesday.  Plus, it will be fun to watch the film together and make comments in the manner of Mystery Science Theater (if this reference means anything to you).  Hope you can make it!

Weekly Response: Finish Emma & "The Reception of Jane Austen"

“The Reception of Jane Austen: 1815-1950” (363-382)

Read through these excerpts from Austen’s friends, Charlotte Bronte, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and others, and respond in detail to ONE of the readings of Austen/Emma.  Why do you agree or disagree with this reading?  Where in Emma do you see the writer (of the article’s) ideas—or where in the book can you refute them? 

Be sure to focus on a specific article and use a specific passage or two from Emma to connect to this.  This will help you write Paper #3 and, quite possibly, your large paper for the class, since these are some of the most foundational readings of Austen that have continued to shape critical perceptions (and neglect)! 

Short Paper #3 Assignment

Short Paper #3: Emma and the “Voyage of Discovery”

In his essay, “Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen,” D.W. Harding writes that “The impression of Jane Austen which has filtered through to the reading public, down from the first-hand critics, through histories of literature, university courses, literary journalism and polite allusion, deters many who might be her best readers from bother with her at all” (Norton, 378).  Yet Harding argues that the popular conception of Austen (as a calm symbol of a bygone age) belies the true power of her art, which he sees most completely in a novel like Emma, where Austen “offers her readers every excuse for regarding as rather exaggerated figures of fun people who she herself detests and fears” (Norton, 380). 

Monday, October 22, 2012

For This Week: Emma, Chs. 5- 7 (Vol. III)

Romola Garai as Emma (2009) 


T 23   Emma, Chs. 5-13 (pp.129-185)
R 25   Emma, Chs.14-(Vol.III) Ch.7 (pp.185-253)

Answer ONE of the following…

1. Analyze the character of Mrs. Elton: how is she, in many ways, a foil for Emma and even perhaps her mirror image (in the sense of a mirror that distorts, rather than truly reflects)?  Why does Emma take such an immediate dislike to her, particularly in Chapter XIV, where she is pronounced an “Insufferable woman!” 

2. Why does Emma gradually fall in love (however loosely we might use that term) with Frank Churchill?  Remember that she initially claimed that marriage was not for her, since she could never find a man who could treat her as well as her father (nor a house where she could have more freedom than at home).  What qualities or marks of character does she perceive in him?  Does Austen mean for us to “see” the same Frank Churchill?  On a related note, why does Knightley despise him and suspect his morals?  Is it just jealousy? 

3. Jane Fairfax is a peripheral character in these chapters, seen only in glimpses; yet Austen is careful to lay great weight on these moments.  What are we made to see in her brief interactions with Frank, Emma, and Miss Bates?  What kind of character is she?  Do we agree with Emma’s comment, “this amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings”? (168). 

4. When Emma learns of how Frank rescued Harriet from the gypsies, she muses, “a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and steadiest brain” (230).  Why would a woman so conscious of class relationships (remember, she scorns Elton’s proposal) even consider this match?  Frank is light years above Harriet, and is seen throughout more as Emma’s equal.  Why is the ‘blind’ in this matter, and what might it say about her view of the world in general—or her character/role in the novel?  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Critical Paper Assignment: Read Carefully!

Anne Hathaway: Our 21st Century Austen? 

 Critical Paper: (Re)Reading Jane Austen: A View from the 21st Century

As we read (and re-read) Jane Austen’s novels, we are doing something quite revolutionary.  Reading is interpreting, and as 21st century readers we are reading Austen’s text in a ‘future’ that she could have never envisioned.  In essence, we are doing the work that Austen scholars and filmmakers do on a much larger (and expensive) level!  For each new version of a Jane Austen novel introduces, comments, and contextualizes Austen’s words, making us see and appreciate them according to new ideas, trends and aesthetics (feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, etc.).  Likewise, each new Austen film tailors her work to a contemporary audience, snipping out bits that would seem too dated and stressing the ‘universal’ and the ‘modern.’  For some, she is all lightness and perfection, while in others, she is tormented, hemmed in, and bitter about her heroines’ fates.  For this paper, I want you to perform your own ‘rewriting’ of Austen, considering a specific aspect, theory, or conversation to help us re-evaluate Austen’s legacy and unshakable (?) place in the literary canon...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Film Review: 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice by Janne Klassen

 Pride and Prejudice 


BBC. Directed by Cyril Coke

Adapted by Fay Weldon. Lizzy played by Elizabeth Garvie and Darcy played by David Rintoul.
3 out of 4 stars.

What happens to a piece of art when it ages to the point it is unable to engage the audience. Can we call it ingenious if the newest generation finds it uninteresting and almost unbearable to watch? Yes, yes we can. This particular version of Pride and Prejudice captured Austen’s words and brought them to life as best they could at the time. The miniseries did an excellent good job of casting the characters over all and there were not many extreme diversions from the text. 

Film Review: Bridget Jones's Diary by Cara Gaddy and Jaime Worden

Bridget Jones’s Diary. Dir. Sharon Mcguire. Perf. Renee Zellweger, High Grant, Collin Firth  Miramax, 2001. DVD. (Personal Star Rating 3 out 4).
Overall, Bridget Jones’s Diary was a hilarious take on Pride and Prejudice. The film focuses around Bridget, a thirty-something woman who is fed up with being a single, over thirty spinster who drinks and smokes too much. The story follows her through her journey of self-discovery where she meets some interesting bumps in the road. While often wondering throughout the movie how relevant it was to Pride and Prejudice, the similarities are there, just perhaps spiced up a bit and made for more of an adult audience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

For Friday: Questions for Emma, Chs.1-12

"Elizabeth Farren," Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790s)
 READING:    R 11     Emma, Chs. 1-12 (pp. 5-77)

Answer ONE of the following by Friday…

1.         Even more than Pride and Prejudice, Emma is a novel of class distinctions, as demonstrated explicitly in Chapter 3, when the narrator remarks, “Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody.  Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour border” (Norton, 18).  How does class/status seem to affect the relationships between the characters in the novel, as well as shape the very society they live in? 

2.         Compare Emma Woodhouse to Elizabeth Bennet: where do we see similarities in their sensibility, opinions, prejudices, etc.?  Or, perhaps, where are the greatest differences in these very qualities? 

3.         Emma also explicitly, even in the opening chapters, concerns itself with the education of women.  How does Emma mean to ‘educate’ Harriet Smith, and what do we know about her own education?  Would Wollstonecraft approve?  Would Austen?  How satirical is Austen’s approach to education here—and how much is meant to be exemplary? 

4.         In Chapter 10, Emma Woodhouse famously remarks, “I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry.  Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a very different thing! but I have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall” (Norton, 62).  Does Emma represent a new, liberated heroine for Austen (and indeed, 19th century literature)?  Is she truly a woman who has escaped from the marriage market by virtue of her education and class?  Or is this another satirical barb of Austen’s?