Friday, April 21, 2017

Old BBC Austen Adaptations, Today at Austen Authors

It's my turn again! This month I'm reviewing the old Austen adaptations I love so well. Please join me! http://austenauthors.net/old-bbc-austen-adaptations/


I have long championed the old BBC Austen adaptations, produced in the 70s and 80s. I was so fortunate as to receive the pictured box set several years ago as a Christmas gift, and since I have watched these films time and time again. Now, if you require beautiful cinematography and have no tolerance for this style of old, made for TV literary adaptation, which admittedly tend to be long, move slowly, and are hampered by unfortunate production quality, then no amount of praise from me will help you find enjoyment in these movies. You will lose your patience. But for me, it is precisely such attributes that make these versions feel a little more true to Austen. There is a quietness to the old adaptations, incompatible with the glossy and dramatic versions made over the last quarter of a century, that better conveys the atmosphere of her books. Not that I don't adore the newer movies - they're (mostly) phenomenal - but these are excellent too, and should not be forgotten. In some cases, I have yet to see a version I prefer. So here is a brief intro to and scene from each film. When I've written them, I've included links to reviews. Unfortunately, the quality issues sometime appear worse than usual in the clips, due to the quality of the recordings, but they still provide a taste of each film.

Sense and Sensibility, 1981

I believe Sense and Sensibility translates to film particularly well, and all the versions I have ever seen of it are quite good. I'm not sure why this version was included in the box set instead of the 1971 version (it features Joanna David as a wonderful Elinor, familiar to Janeites from her portrayal of Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, 1995, and a fabulous performance by British TV icon Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Jennings). Both versions leave out Margaret Dashwood entirely out of the script, which I find problematic.
The 1981 adaptation stars Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood (also Charlotte Collins in the 1980 Pride and Prejudice), Marianne is played by Tracey ChildsBosco Hogan is Edward Ferrars, and Robert Swann is Colonel Brandon, but none of these actors are in the clip below. Instead, I have chosen a scene dominated by Amanda Boxer, who portrays Fanny Dashwood. She is my favorite actress in this role. Throughout the film she is odiously smug and collected, and to see her lose it on Anne Steele (Pippa Sparkes) is hysterical. Often film makers forget that Austen is, first and foremost, a comic writer, and I really appreciate it when they pay homage to her love of absurdity and amusement in human folly. Also featured are Julia Chambers (who is fabulous) as Lucy Steele, and Peter Gale as John Dashwood.


Pride and Prejudice, 1980

I think it is fair to claim that this is the most beloved film in the collection. Many Janeites continue to prefer this version of Pride and Prejudice to the more acclaimed, recent versions. I think that's because Elizabeth Garvie is so good as Elizabeth Bennet, and David Rintoul, while a bit stiff, just looks perfect as Darcy. Also, because the story has been less, um, sensationalized (no wet shirts here), it comes off as the coziest of the Pride and Prejudice adaptations available.
The scene below is the party at Lucas Lodge and features Irene Richards as Charlotte (since we missed her in action as Elinor). We also get quick glimpses of Tessa Peake-Jones as Mary Bennet (my favorite Mary!) and Priscilla Morgan as Mrs. Bennet


Mansfield Park, 1983

This is by far and away my preferred Mansfield Park, and for that reason alone is enough to make it my favorite film in the boxset. There are only three versions of Mansfield Park, and both the more recent films make the fundamental mistake of trying to fix the novel. This is the only one that honestly attempts to capture the true story, and Sylvestra Le Touzal (who also played Mrs. Allen in the excellent 2007 version of Northanger Abbey) is the only actress to have portrayed the real Fanny Price on screen. She is supported by Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. Both are in the featured clip, along with Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas (he was also Mr. Woodhouse in Andrew Davies' 1996 Emma), and my favorite performers in this production: Anna Massey as Aunt Norris and Angela Pleasence as Lady Bertram. This clip has fun with both, in which Fanny has been invited to her first dinner party at the Grant's.


Emma, 1972

I really love this one, despite the fact that I think all three of the more recent versions of Emma are better. For whatever reason, I've consistently watched it more often than the other films in the boxset. Part of it, I think, is that like Sense and SensibilityEmma works very well on film. Highlights of this version include Mollie Sugden (best known as Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served?) as Mrs. Goddard, and my favorite Mr. Woodhouse, Donald Eccles, who is fabulously nervous. The below clip shows Emma (Doran Godwin) and Harriet Smith (Debbie Bowen) paying their first, introductory call on the new Mrs. Elton (Fiona Walker). This moment is only mentioned in the book, and the dialogue actually comes from Mrs. Elton's return call on Hartfield. The end of the scene isn't in Austen at all, but it is quite amusing, nonetheless. Mr. Elton is played by Timothy Peters. Mr. Knightley, unfortunately not featured here, is excellently captured by John Carson.


Persuasion, 1971

This is my favorite Persuasion adaptation. It isn't perfect, but unlike both more recent versions, it does not rely on Austen's cancelled chapters of the story for plot. This really bothers me! It pains me there isn't a better, yet still accurate, film adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. So when I want to watch Persuasion, this is my go to, for it causes the least frustration.
Anne Elliot is played by Ann Firbanks, and Bryan Marshall is Captain Wentworth (though it appears to be Robert Swann - Col. Brandon from Sense & Sensibility - on the DVD cover. Such quirks I suppose to be part of the experience). The moment is when Wentworth writes and Anne receives THE LETTER. I chose it because it is almost verbatim from the book, giving viewers the opportunity to relish the complexity of the scene as Austen wrote it, and because Anne (thank goodness!) does not take to the streets of Bath and run about like a madwoman. I find that immensely gratifying. Also featured are Georgine Anderson as Mrs. Croft, Noel Dyson as Mrs. Musgrove, and Michael Culver as Captain Harville.


Northanger Abbey, 1987

Easily the strangest Austen adaptation ever made, the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey doesn't really fit with the other films in this boxset. It is by far the shortest (only 78 minutes), and it wildly diverges from the novel, playing up it's gothic aspects. A source of both outrage and fascination for fans, it is something you should really see at least once, if for no other reason than to join the debate. Also, Northanger Abbey has only ever been made into a movie twice. For those long horrified by this version, the 2007 film is so magnificent that they might like to forget this one ever existed. I think that's a mistake. Especially now that we have a much more accurate adaptation to cling to, I can appreciate this film for just being so darn bizarre.
The below scene is an example of this outlandishness. Instead of the Pump Room, it takes place inside the King's Bath (read my review for more history/explanation on the craziness here portrayed). You only see Mr. Tilney (Peter Firth) for a moment at the very beginning. In the baths are Catherine Morland (played by Katharine Schlesinger), Mrs. Allen (Googie Withers), Miss Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), and a most skin crawling duo: Cassie Stuart and Jonathan Coy as Isabella and John Thorpe. If you thought they were bad in the book, they are absolutely revolting here. The 80s-gone-18th century coiffures are marvelously awful. Actually, the whole film might be worth watching for the crazy head gear alone, which is on incongruous display below.


Have you seen and enjoyed (or hated) these films? I'd love to read your thoughts. Do share them.

Friday, April 7, 2017

First Impressions Birthday Giveaway WINNER!

And the winner of the three paperback and ridiculously adorable Easter ornaments is ...

The Anglophile

Congratulations! An email is coming your way to confirm mailing details.

Thanks to everyone who entered! Now that I know how popular my Swiss goodies are, I'll be sure to include others in future giveaways.

And just a heads up: most of my books, including the Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice trilogy, are now available on Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy!

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton

My deeper relationship with Austen began when I was in college. We were reading Persuasion in a Romantic Literature class (the first and only time I encountered Austen on a syllabus), and I began to imagine Anne Elliot walking beside me across campus or sitting in a lecture hall, and what she might have to say about our modern world. This was long before I knew anything of fan fiction, other than that it existed. These memories came back to me with sharp clarity when I read this scene:

They continued in silence for some distance, though both of them cast a meaningful stare at No 4 Sydney Place as they passed, but as they reached the Beckford Road and began the ascent, Rose turned to Jane again. 

"Does the noise bother you? The road? This is a main route to Warminster and beyond and has such heavy traffic." 

Jane smiled. "Much is altered." She looked around and gestured with her arm. "Naught but open fields bordered the Gardens." Her expression sobered. "My disinclination for our removal to Bath was much compensated for by our pleasing situation in Sydney Place. One does not feel - did not - feel so confined be the city on its outer edges." 

"Then shall we walk along the canal?" Rose pointed to the gap through which the towpath could be seen, winding its way towards Bathampton. It was a route she had often trod in the summer months when still living at home. 

"As you wish." 

They fell into step again, continuing to walk side by side at first for the width of the path permitted it. 

"I did not answer your question." Jane glanced at her, and Rose frowned. "Noise emanating from these modern conveyances does not trouble me, for it is merely different. The constant rumble of wheels over cobbles, the clatter of hooves is not so much lower in volume than your modern conveyances. 'Tis why I prefer the country; the disturbance of silence has a more natural source: birdsong, flowing water over stones, the bray of a lamb... these things I miss more than any other." 

Rose glances around. It was peaceful by modern-day standards on the towpath, with a few ducks swimming in the canal and very few people about, but just then a light aircraft came overhead, it's engine chugging away, and she glanced at Jane as they walked. 
"And what do you make of our 'modern conveyances'? You must have seen the trains passing through Sydney Gardens, too, if you've been here a while, and noticed the planes flying overhead?" 

Jane looked up as the small plane sailed out of view. "If I may fly through time, why should man not have discovered how to fly though the air?"

A few months later, I myself was wandering over the streets and paths so meticulously detailed in The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton (visit them at TabbyCow.com), at the 2016 Jane Austen Festival in Bath. I sighed just now as I wrote those words. They are a vivid reminder of how much blogging I have neglected. I never got passed the National Portrait Gallery (got a bit bogged down there, I know, but it was so awesome!), and failed to share anything of my fabulous stay in Bath here. Nor did I ever write this book review. I am a big believer in better late than never. Good thing, too.

Anyway, when I was in Bath last fall, this book was like a mental guidebook: its scenes reenacting themselves before my mind's eye. It was my first time in Bath, and when I got lost a few times, this ability was quite useful! If you have long yearned to make the pilgrimage to the Festival, as I did, than this book is honestly the next best thing. It takes place during the festival. The main character, Rose, walks in the promenade. How eerie was it for me, following in her footsteps, and knowing that one of the authors, Cass Grafton, was somewhere in the crowd! I have had the pleasure of getting to know Ms. Grafton over the past two years, as she lives not far from me in Switzerland. Her presence was just another layer adding to my glee in being where I was, when I was. The only thing missing was the fair weather Rose and her friend Morgan enjoyed during their promenade (fortunately, like Captain Wentworth, I had "equipped myself for Bath" and purchased an umbrella).

The story is one of time travel, friendship, and not taking anything for granted. Thematically, it reminds me in many ways of my own Being Mrs. Bennet, the second draft of which I was completing when reading this novel, though on the surface they are wildly different stories. Rose Wallace has always lived in Bath or its environs. Her future is there, even if a few demons from her past still haunt the ancient city. Her encounter with a time traveling Jane Austen, in whose adventure she becomes totally enmeshed, teaches her many of the same lessons hard-learned by an Austen heroine (or two).

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is such a great title for this particularly charming novel. It has such a mix of things going on: an homage not just to Jane Austen, but also to the fantasy genre. Other reviews I have read of this book compare it to a wild variety of other stories, and that's because there are so many influences informing the action. It's apparently clear that, just like Jane Austen, Ms. Bright and Ms. Grafton share a passionate love for books of all sorts. This novel is not fan fiction, but I think it is no less a book for fans. The enthusiasm of fan culture permeates it. To me it felt like the authoresses had taken Hermione Granger's time turner and transmuted it into an amber cross (there is an awesome moment in the book when Rose gives Jane a copy of The Philosopher's Stone to read). Such fun! I do hope there will be a sequel. The end leaves an opening for one. I feel like the adventure has only just begun, and I definitely want to be on board when it continues. Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

First Impressions Birthday Giveaway


Yay! Today is my first baby's birthday! Seven years ago, I published my first book, First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice. I wrote it very quickly, with no idea I would ever publish. It was really, in conception, more of a reaction to the world of JAFF than a new story. I had only recently found and immersed myself in the world of Austenesque literature, and it was only when I started running out of new books to read (a thing that could still happen back then), that I was driven to write something myself. I had no idea it would turn into a trilogy, let alone a major life's passion. Jane Austen was always important to me, but since I published that first book, her influence has penetrated my entire world. Now I think, breathe, and live Austen. I used to only read her.


To thank all who have purchased, loved, and supported both First Impressions and my other scribblings, I want to offer one winner the complete set of books in the Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice series (either paperback or Kindle, winner's choice), along with these absolutely adorable, wooden Easter ornaments, which I fell in love with at my local supermarket here in Switzerland (I bought two sets: one for me, and one to share). Simply leave your email address in the comments by April 7th. Double entry if you share the giveaway on social media, but you must let me know you did so in your comment. This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you all, for so much.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Rise and Fall of an Empire (Waist), today at Austen Authors

I'm up this month at Austen Authors today (3/24/17) - boy, I sure need to provide this blog with some original material, and not just keep crossposting, as I have so far all year. It's on the to do list, but first comes processing the beta comments on Darcy in Wonderland, which have been coming in all week. I hope to have the book out this summer. More info in the post below. Enjoy!


Dancing dress featuring Grecian elements, 1809.
My newest book, Darcy in Wonderland (look for it this summer), is both a Pride and Prejudice sequel and mashup with Alice in Wonderland. The action takes place at some unspecified point during the early Victorian Era. Honestly, the timing is very sketchy, as Darcy and Elizabeth are supposed to be married for over twenty years, putting the year in the early 1830's, but Carroll didn't publish his masterpiece of children's literature until 1865. In my head I split the difference, dating the book somewhere around the late 1840s, but this ambiguity is causing my illustrator no little strife (Katy Wiedemann is an amazing artist! See her work in scientific illustration here: http://www.wiedemannillustrations.com/index.html). We have spent a great deal of time discussing the transition between Regency and Victorian fashions, and it has caused me to reflect upon why the fashions of the Regency Era are so drastically different from those that proceeded and followed. An answer can be found in the name of the silhouette that dominated the period: the Empire waist.
Left: Full dress (Spring, 1799) in the Grecian style. Right: Day dress (1802) leaving very little to the imagination.
The Empire waist gown, the most defining element of women's fashion during the Regency Era, has far more political implications than most Austen fans and period reenactors realize. In truth, it was revolutionary: a sartorial celebration of the times. "Empire" refers to the one built by Napoleon, and is the name given in France to this period of history. High-waisted, loose gowns inspired by the peasantry began to be worn in elite French fashion circles prior to the Revolution, largely in response to the philosophies put forth by Jean-Jaques Rousseau, an advocate for society's return to more a natural state (often using peasants as an example), and whose ideas permeate Romantic thought. Yet this uncorseted look that shocked so many was not de rigueur until after the Revolution, when it became a reflection of the values of the new French state: simple fabrics and lines were far more egalitarian than complex court dress, their unrestrictive shapes were literally liberating, and the overall look was evocative of ancient Athens, where Democracy was born. Structured gowns became as passé as the wigs that went with them.
1807 gowns display the continued popularity of Grecian and Roman styling. Left: Full dress and walking dress. Right: Full dress
The earliest examples of this look from the late 18th century still featured trains, but as the 19th century began the gowns became straighter, emphasizing a woman's true shape. Thin fabrics left little to the imagination. The English took their initial cues on this new look from the French, but as contact between the two countries diminished over decades of war, the Empire look began to take on a distinctly English flare. Tight fitted spencers and redingotes, while marvels of tailoring, acted to bring the liberated look a bit more in control, as well as providing some much-needed warmth. Many ladies also found that to achieve the desired silhouette, they still required a great deal of confining undergarments. Tudor and military embellishments further increased the structure of the gowns. Notions of simplicity in women's clothing were soon abandoned, and ornamentation became just as ostentatious as ever. The death of Napoleon in 1821 coincides nicely with the beginning of the waistline's gradual journey back to, well, the waist (it took less time in France). It wasn't until the early 1830's that women's fashion began to take on truly Victorian dimensions in England, returning to the tight corsets and voluminous skirts of the previous century.
Evening dresses from 1816 (left) and 1819 (right) feature helmet like-headdresses reminiscent of Athena's, the Greek goddess of war.
One need not be an historian to know the Victorian Era was a period of rigid social conservatism. It is easy to read the fall of the waistline as a rejection of revolution, but feminist historians are quick to point out that Rousseau's philosophies and the fashions they inspired were far from liberating. Boys and girls of the era dressed in miniature versions of the gowns grown ladies wore. Boys were "breached" and allowed to grow into men, but girls were kept in a perpetual state of infancy. In Emile, Rousseau's treatise on education, he describes a vision of womanhood rather chilling to the modern reader. The vast bulk of the book describes the education of Emile, his fictitious pupil, and only contemplates the education of girls in Book Five: Marriage. Here he describes the ideal mate for Emile, one Sophie, and the education she ought to receive to keep her as natural a woman as possible:
Morning and evening dress (1818) showing military influences.
As I see it, the special functions of women, their inclinations and their duties, combine to suggest the kind of education they require. Men and women are made for each other but they differ in their measure of dependence on each other. We could get on better without women than women could get on without us. To play their part in life they must have our willing help, and for that they must earn our esteem. By the very law of nature women are at the mercy of men's judgments both for themselves and for their children. It is not enough that they should be estimable: they must be esteemed. It is not enough that they should be wise: their wisdom must be recognized. Their honor does not rest on their conduct but on their reputation. Hence the kind of education they get should by the very opposite of men's in this respect. Public opinion is the tomb of a man's virtue but the throne of a woman's. 
Walking dress demonstrating both Tudor and military influence, 1821 (left) and 1822 (right).
His words, though rather infuriating, perfectly describe the reality in which Jane Austen lived and wrote. Recall what Mary Bennet has to say on the subject:
"Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable -- that one false step involves her in endless ruin -- that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, -- and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."
Elizabeth might find such a statement annoying under the circumstances, but Mary is undoubtedly correct about life in the Regency. If Wickham did not marry Lydia, the entire Bennet family would have been tarnished by her actions, throwing their very survival into doubt. All this from a lack of active patriarchal protection. Women were entirely at the mercy of public opinion, yet at the same time fashion exposed their bodies in ways unheard of in Europe for centuries past. They were taught to court and relish masculine attention, just like Lydia Bennet, but then were punished for indulging in it. What a double edged sword!
The falling waistline. Left: Walking and dinner dress (1822). Right: Evening dress (Winter, 1826).
Even if Rousseau was not an advocate for any real form of female liberation, his notions undoubtedly influenced philosophers who were, like Mary Wollstonecraft. The ideals of freedom and liberty that marked the period would gradually spread their wings and encompass more and more of the globe, a process that is ongoing. One truth that can be universally acknowledged is that after a few decades of Victorian austerity, corsets again fell out of fashion, hemlines raised, and a new era of women's fashion was born. With it came suffrage, women in the work place, and birth control. Pretty revolutionary, wouldn't you say?
Boy and girls fashions, 1834. The younger boys, like the three on the far left, are still wearing skirts resembling those of the girl the same age (second figure from the right). The older boy standing behind her has been breached.
This post owes a great debt to Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing, an excellent overview of the subject from Shire Library that I highly recommend.
The images featured are from the Claremont Colleges Digital Library: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/.

Join the conversation at Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net/the-rise-and-fall-of-an-empire-waist/.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Best Austen Quotes, today at Austen Authors

This is my post for 2/24/17 at Austen Authors:

My laptop is on the verge of death and unbearable to use, and I am praying for the new one's daily arrival. Coping with a distorted screen and often unresponsive keyboard, I attempted to write about the politics behind the empire waisted gown, but the subject proved too complex to pursue amidst the technical complication, and I abandoned it in frustration (I will try to tackle it again for my post next month). So instead of a more scholarly offering, today I am falling back on a staple tactic of my earliest blogging days: when in doubt, make a list. This I think I can handle despite the cantankerous computer. I've tackled a variety of Austen rankings in my time, but I never have offered up my absolute favorite quotes from each of the novels, probably because it is an entirely partial and prejudiced endeavor. If I engaged in this exercise again next week, I would probably land on different selections. Nevertheless, here are the lines that currently stand out most prominent in my mind, ranked according to my momentary preference.

#6 - "Mr. Bertram," said she, "I have tidings of my harp at last. I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so often received to the contrary." Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise. "The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant, we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but this morning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher's son-in-law left word at the shop." - Mansfield Park
Hayley Atwell, 2007.
I just love this line (Mary gets all the best in this book). It reveals something very quintessential about Austen world.
  • Runner up: "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."

 

#5 - Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.

In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he had revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared, might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before. - Sense and Sensibility

Jean Marsh, 2008.
I adore Austen's narrative voice, and this bit of commentary on Mrs. Ferrars beautifully critiques the character's absurdity. It makes me laugh every time I read it.
  • Runner up: "Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that?--They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something." - Fanny Dashwood

4. "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. -- Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." - Pride and Prejudice
Benjamin Whitrow, 1995.
There are so many fabulous lines and zingers in the book, but these three, short sentences strike me as both powerful and pivotal, excellently demonstrating the ruling dynamics of the Longbourn household.
  • I have no less than four runners up for this novel. All are great:
    • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
    • "I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh." - Elizabeth Bennet
    • "Kitty was no discretion in her coughs ... she times them very ill." - Mr. Bennet
    • "Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?" - Lady Catherine

#3 - "Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Mr. Knightley.

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me."

"Will you?" said he, offering his hand.

"Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."

"Brother and sister! no, indeed." - Emma

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, 2009.
I had the hardest time choosing a single quote for Emma, as it is chock full of masterfully constructed text. In the end, I selected the above exchange rather than a single line, because the moment is magnificent.
  • Runners up:
    • "Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else." - Miss Woodhouse ("Badly done," Emma!)
    • "You must go to bed early, my dear—and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.—You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel." - Mr. Woodhouse
  
#2 - "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." - Northanger Abbey
JJ Feild, 2007.
Mr. Tilney has maybe the best dialogue of any character Austen created. I chose this line because it is so quotable. I once seriously considered painting it over my bookshelves (crappy handwriting is all that stoped me).
  • Runner up (from the same chapter): "My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous."
  
#1 - "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever." - Persuasion
Ciaran Hinds, 1995.
The best words Austen ever wrote, totally ROCKED by Captain Wentworth. They make me want to jump up and cheer.
  • Runner up: "My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." "You are mistaken," said he gently, "that is not good company; that is the best." - Anne Elliot and Mr. Elliot

So what are your favorites? Do you take issue with any of mine? Let us indulge ourselves in frivolous debate! Come join the fun at Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net/six-best-austen-quotes/.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Seduction of the Waltz, today at Austen Authors

So the holidays lasted a little longer than they were supposed to. Unfortunately, I'm not posting original material here today, but rather turning your attention to my latest Austen Authors post. The Seduction of the Waltz was inspired by my time in Vienna over the New Year. I had a lot of fun putting this together:


Thomas Rowlandson's frontispiece for "A Selection of Most Admired and Original German Waltzes" by Edward Jones, 1806
"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! -- There is nothing like dancing after all. -- I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies."
"Certainly, Sir; -- and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. -- Every savage can dance."
Mr. Darcy's snide retort to the oblivious Sir William Lucas might have had a different resonance with Austen's contemporaries than it does with modern readers. I always read it in the past with racial overtones, and I think a lot of modern scholars put a post-colonial interpretation on it. The word "savage" undeniably has its colonial implications, yet it is possible Mr. Darcy refers not to the indigenous people of distant continents, but rather to Europe's very own German and Austrian peasantry, spinning about scandalously wrapped in each other's arms. You see when Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, Regency society was just being hit with the dance revolution called the waltz. This infiltration from the continent was considered just as libidinous in its time as the pelvic thrusts of Elvis Presley were in his, maybe even more so. Society seems to have had three main objections to the waltz: it required very little training (always dangerously egalitarian), the "closed hold" brought the bodies of dancers together into a heretofore unheard of degree of intimacy, and it eliminated the passing of one's partner to another, keeping a couple anti-socially focused on only each other throughout a set. Jane Austen herself probably never danced a true waltz, being thirty-six and a confirmed spinster when the dance finally made its official debut at Almacks in 1812. Nevertheless, many Austenesque fiction writers can't resist the urge to portray our heroes and heroines engaged in a waltz. We're in good company, as neither can Disney. Admittedly, one can't quite float on air through the steps of a country line dance (nor maintain a solid conversation), but I'm not sure that's enough to explain the unique grasp the waltz has on our imaginations. It takes a very special dance to hold humanity entranced for hundreds of years, and it's ubiquity shows no signs of abating.

I was so fortunate as to spend New Year's Day at the stunningly beautiful Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Hapsburg imperial family. It is hard to visit without having your thoughts turned to the waltz. Walking through the Great Gallery one can vividly imagine the dancers at countless balls across the centuries, twirling about in fabulous gowns and frock coats (they do not allow photography at the schloss, but you can enjoy an excellent virtual tour of all the rooms open to the public at the Schönbrunn website). This is where the waltz as we know it was born, amidst the dazzling splendor of 18th century Vienna, but its ancestry is far more humble. The waltzer, a dance for two persons, first developed around the mid-18th century amongst the alpine peasantry in Germany and Austria. At the same time the ländler, another couples dance, became popular with peasants across the Alps, from Switzerland to Slovenia (see it performed in The Sound of Music above). Aristocrats, for generations constrained to performing intricate and controlled dances like the minuet and allemande, seem to have developed something like envy for the freedom allowed their underlings, and the gentleman are said to have snuck off to the parties of their servants in order to indulge in the new fad. Eventually a new form of allemande developed in Vienna, backed by the likes of Mozart, melding the traditional court dance with that of the peasantry. The allemande was always characterized by intricate arm formations and hand grasps with one's partner. Now the close hold was introduced. A few more refinements from the dance masters - less stamping, more gliding - and the waltz was well on its way to arguably being the biggest dance craze of all time. By the beginning of the 19th century, everyone was waltzing except the Brits.

The Napoleonic Wars are certainly much to blame for delaying the waltz's arrival in London, but society in England was also more conservative than that on the Continent. Dances such as the Duke of Kent's Waltz (see it performed above) were popular at the turn of the century, but these received their names from the act of spinning with one's partner in a tight circle and did not incorporate the closed hold. It wasn't until after the Regency officially began that the waltz had it's shocking debut. That first waltz at Almack's was still very different from the forms codified a few decades later, possibly resembling the new form of allemande more than anything else. A version of this survives as a traditional German folk dance and can provide some notion of what it might have looked like. Compare the video of it below to that of the baroque allemande to get an idea of how the peasant's waltzer and ländler influenced the dances of the European royal courts.



Whatever it looked like (we will probably never know for certain), the scandal was very real. Even the infamous Lord Byron, no prude by any means, was appalled by the dance and wrote a poem expressing his horror entitled The Waltz in 1813, the same year the world was introduced to Lizzy and Darcy (read the poem in it's entirety here). This is an excerpt just to give you an idea of how overtly sexual Byron considered the dance:
1815 print by Henry Meyer after G. Williams, courtesy of The British Museum
But ye—who never felt a single thought
For what our morals are to be, or ought;
          Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,
Say—would you make those beauties quite so cheap?
Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,
Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,
Where were the rapture then to clasp the form
From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?
At once love’s most endearing thought resign,
To press the hand so press’d by none but thine;
To gaze upon that eye which never met
Another’s ardent look without regret;
Approach the lip which all, without restraint,
Come near enough—if not to touch—to taint;
If such thou lovest—love her then no more,
Or give—like her—caresses to a score;
Her mind with these is gone, and with it go
The little left behind it to bestow.
The sanctity of feminine virtue aside, the waltz was in England to stay. The politicos and socialites who flocked to the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815 came home fully enrapt. The danced received the highest sanction in July of 1816, to great uproar. First came the announcement on the 11th of the publication of dance master Thomas Wilson's A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing, the Truly Fashionable Species of Dancing (which you can view in its entirety here). This codification of the dance for polite society must have been all the Regent was waiting for, as a mere three days later he held a ball at which the waltz was said to be danced for the first time by the royal court (The London Times, 16 July, 1816). Below see an instructional video for the version of the dance as described by Wilson (skip to the very end to watch the steps danced in succession).


For decades to come the waltz would continue to be condemned for it's crudeness and sexuality. Even Queen Victoria's firm advocacy would not completely silence detractors. Would we like the waltz so much if it had? For we cannot deny, even from our jaded, modern perspectives, that the waltz is sexy. It always has been and always will be, even in a world where twerking is socially acceptable. Maybe especially in a world with twerking. What would Mr. Darcy say if he could see that?
Let's end on a far prettier image and enjoy one last video, this one filmed at Schönbrunn, both in front of the palace and in the Great Gallery. It's a beautiful demonstration of the art and elegance with which this once rustic dance was eventually imbued. The music is the Kaiser Waltz by the waltz master himself, Johann Strauss, and features a ballet interpretation of the music as well as Viennese waltzers. The lead ballerinas are in the guises of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (better known as Sisi), who ruled the Austrian Empire for most of the 19th century.


For more information on the history of the waltz in England, please read Cheryl A. Wilson's excellent essay, The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812, to which this piece owes a great debt. I also relied on this post which provides a broader overview of the history of the waltz.