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Dear Friends,

To explain to Diana (or if I may, Miss Shuster-Slatt), the kind of writing I mean to put on this blog first I will differentiate this from the previous blog (Ellen and Jim have a blog, too) and then provide a description, analysis, and meditation on the latest mini-series, Lost in Austen both below and in the comments to this reverie-blog.

So, when I wrote www.jimandellen.org/austenblog/701.html "Dreaming the Austen Movies" on my old blog, I wrote an essay on the in-depth reach of costume drama, especially in the subgenre the Austen movies, and then did talk of how I dreamed about them in my sleep.  I provided a still of John Carson as particularly beautiful (actually caught from the 1972 BBC Emma.



For this Reverie under the Sign of Austen, I will instead this morning first say as I woke up in the dawn I realized I had been dreaming that the actors from Lost in Austen had been filming the movie in my house for several nights, and half-believing it as I went about my daily activities. Then I offer another still, a particularly evocative one for me -- among the many oneiric ones in the film:




And out of that, an description, analysis and evaluation of Lost in Austen.

On the weekend I watched the opening 2 episodes of Lost in Austen. The opening prologue, paratexts, and repeat of prologue is very powerful for an Austenite or Janeite.

We see a book coming out of a bag and then as the words (voice over) starts, we see a woman reading P&P in a familiar Penguin edition).  She speaks in a deeply sonorous tone:

It is a truth generally acknowledged that we are all longing to escape.

[then begins a sequence of clips which are set up to recall different Austen movies]

I escape always to my favorite book Pride and Prejudice [her voice becomes ever so slightly choked with emotion]. I've read it [turning of pages heard] so many times now, the words just say themselves in my head [warmer and warmer]

[Insert we see a man dressed in 18th century clothes on a terrace looking out at a beautifully set up countryside: this is an exact quotation at least of the 1981 S&S where Brandon (handsome Robert Swan) so looks out]

and it is like a window opening. It's like I'm actually there

[scene of her dressed in an outfit that recalls one of Jennifer Ehle's only she's walking down a stone stairwell that is very like one in the 1983 BBC MP where Mary Crawford wears the colors she has on]

It's become a place I know so intimately I can see that world I can

[she is now running down the stairs, and has an outfit precisely like Ehle's; she and we see the man on the terrace from afar, now close up from behind and he begins to turn and resembles Colin Firth]

I see Mr Darcy .... whoooo! ....

[back to modern scene of her on couch and she shuts book to stop herself]

Amanda. [we hear a car starting up and she breathes hard ...]

Now where was I? ....


Then come a series of comic paratexts which like those in the 1979 P&P anticipate the story. In this one Jane will marry Mr Collins.  After the paratexts a reprise of that opening, only this time preceded by her at work (montage of stress, anxiety, people coming to her telling her absurd stories as she writes on the computer, in the noisy streets, in the bus trying to read P&P and home again ...

I know that Austen is no escape, but this does call to my heart as I read Austen for refuge too, and I feel I know it by heart, and the appeal to how it resonates somewhere, as well as the quotations of effective moments in previous films is superbly right.  I would be a hypocrite were I to say otherwise.

The movie is a kind of Jane Austen meets Mark Twain.  Elizabeth Bennet comes to her house and tricks Amanda Price into taking her place. Prince and Pauper. Arriving and unable to go back, Amanda is a irritant who brings another world's perspective (but not satiric or burlesqueing the characters) and gets in the way of the story so as to disturb and make it end differently.  A mix of Connecticut Yankee in King's Arthur's Court and Six Characters in Search of an Author.

They have chosen actresses and clothes which recall the 95 P&P more than any other film, but for example the Bennet house corridor is precisely that of the 79 P&P.  A metamovie you might say :)  The anamesic music which plays at the opening of each part is exactly that which plays at the opening of the 95 P&P. I suppose they paid a lot for that.  It's strong rousing music.  For transcripts and stills and more themes, see

Lost in Austen:  The Harrowing of Amanda's Dream

Lost in Austen:  We must not reproach ourselves for unlived lives.

Andrew Davies usually gets strong active rousing music for his film adaptations, especially when it's by a woman and is about romance and subtle and delicate. Immediately he tries to attract viewers who would not normally pick up a woman's novel or think of a novel of sensibility as somehow without strength or vigor.  In his Daniel Deronda he chose an operatic score, and in NA kept the background black with a white script and chose eerie music in a minor key.

But here the overt important thing is he repeats the music of the 95 P&P which was (as he knows) an important sociological event in the growth of recent Austenmania. I have girl students who will say they love Austen's P&P and when I question them, they admit they have not read her book but rather watched his movie over and over -- he makes it Darcy's story as much or more than Elizabeth's.

Lots of jokes over clashes in outfits - she is dressed supersexy for the era.

It's very clever and at first works self-reflexively wittily (and some of the principals are very good -- Alex Kingston as Mrs Bennet, Hugh Bonneville as Mr), but it falls off as the writers have to come up with a different story and they make one which doesn't cohere either with Austen's own characterse (which doesn't matter that much) and also with the characters as they've reimagined them.

As I recall it seemed to me to fall off as the new changes in the story engendered by Amanda's presence) were worked out.  Now I'm thinking that by having Jane marry Mr Collins, the writers bring home that Bingley was wrong and create a real result from his having abandoned Jane and allowed himself to be persuades. The importance of virginity or chastity is not gone from us for the movie actually uses the same device as Burney (!): we are to believe Mr Collins and Jane are not going to bed  with one anotther, doubtless to save her vagina up for who? 

This time I was wondering if I was missing the satire, if there was more than I thought in a muted way and am seeing some of this in the way Darcy is treated.  He is also made to suffer for his arrogance and we are made to see it as arrogance.  For example, his famous insult is clearly overheard by Amanda, meant for her (in the way it is in Bridget Jones's Diary)

To conclude:  returning to the out-of-proportion popularity of P&P to the other novels by Austen: when I reread it last summer to teach it for the first time I became aware of a difference between it and the other 5.

It omits social minutiae; it is very bare of any kind of outside sociological and other detail which the later 3 books are rich in, and is intermixed with the stories of S&S strongly.  The last book, NA (published last with P) has as much aesthetic as social detail.

I did a study of abridgements once and read articles on them: what's done is more than cut chapters; they also thin out the text to remove all detail of an informative kind, much nuance from history. 

I believe one of the way Austen "lopp'd and chopp'd" P&P was to cut this kind of detail and that is also why it's so popular. The short talks and papers on it were often good: they saw the obvious symmetries and many missed the darker currents altogether. Not hard to do really.

So Lost in Austen can readily present the Austen house and Netherfeld and all the rest of it cut off from the nightmare of history at the time.  This book lends itself to the wild romance vision of Joe Wright.  And it's been adapted at least 10 times since 1939 - though one might suggest that early movie was not as  popular as people suppose since the next Austen movie was not until 1971 and the choices were Persuasion & S&S.  P&P wasn't done from 1939 to 1979 - not in a full length movie form.

The early choices of actors for the BBC series also shows that Austen was not regarded as supreme and requiring box stars after the 1939 (where you do have them).

And for myself, well the sense of the experience at night while dreaming made me happier during the days, and I'm a little sorry I now have a grasp on reality more precise. I probably won't be able to have exactly these sets of lovely images (for that's what dreams are) floating in my head again.

Ellen

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
May. 22nd, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
Dreaming Austen
Not to bring you back down to earth, but if you were dreaming the Lost in Austen actors were cavorting around the house filming, it was probably the cats walking over you in bed...

Diana
misssylviadrake
May. 22nd, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
Dreaming the Austen movies
From Steven on Trollope-l:

As for dreaming that they are filming "Lost in Austen" in your house,
well....it was only a matter of time.
misssylviadrake
May. 25th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
_Lost in Austen_, Summary of the Rest
I finished watching the film. The falling off I spoke of begins when "everyone", i.e., Elizabeth, Jane and Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet and Lydia, Wickham and Bingley go to Pemberley. Not enough motivation or story is provided for these character to turn up at Pemberley, nor does it make sense that Darcy would invite them, even if in the series he is presented as basically indifferent to who shows up. The writers make Lydia and Bingley run off together, but as with Mr Collns and Jane, we are to believe they never have sex together. This is one of the most chaste mini-series to have been presented in years. During much of it Mr Bennet refuses to sleep with Mrs Bennet, remaining in the library out of distress because Jane has mismarried. The only characters to have sex are Amanda and Michael at the outset of the series when there is a discreet gap in the narrative during Michael's first appearance in the series and crude way of proposing to Amanda.

The denouement also makes little psychological sense. It is necessary to have a happy ending so Lady Catherine de Bourgh is dragged (I forget how) to Pemberley to say she will enable them to divorce, having failed to persuade the Bennets to marry their left-over daughters to Collins's brothers. (Though why she was for this we are not told.) The act resembles the heart-of-gold act of Lady Catherine in the 1939 _P&P_, only she doesn't have a heart of gold.

Amanda manages to slip back to Hampstead through the attic door of the Bennet house to retrieve Elizabeth and convince her to return after Mr Bennet fights Mr Bingley for taking away Lydia and is badly hurt in the head. Elizabeth has in fact adjusted beautifully to modern life and doesn't want to return; she only goes out of love for the father. It is Wickham who saves the father by finding someone in the town who can sew wounds; as the series rectifies the way Bingley is too lightly let off by Austen, so it suggests that Wickham was unfairly damned by Darcy. I have wondered myself if a previous _P&P_ showed Darcy's letter was partly unfair; in Wright's 2005 _P&P_, there is a scene where Wickham defends himself intensely and appears to suggest Darcy has presented the issues between them unfairly.

Before Elizabeth goes through the bathroom door and back to the 18th century (the other side of the attic door), Darcy follows Amanda through the attic door of the Bennet house to the 20th, is puzzled, terrified, and then simply turned off by the lack of manners and decent language in modern life, and attacked by Amanda's bethrothed Michael. He and Amanda follow Elizabeth back to escape this insoluble scene.

After Darcy, Elizabeth and Amanda return to the 18th century, it seems as if Elizabeth and Darcy may end get together, but when Mr Bennet is seen telling Elizabeth he can get along without her, and must not be selfish and needy, we see Amanda not returned to the 20th century, but rather walking in Pemberley towards Darcy, they kiss and we know that Elizabeth has returned to the 20th century and Amanda will stay behind with Darcy.

So in the end Jane will soon marry Bingley (after she at first refuses to take him since she is "spoilt" goods even if she and Collins never had sexual intercourse), and Darcy and Elizabeth one another. Lydia is left with no one, we never return to Kitty or Mary.

misssylviadrake
May. 25th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
_Lost in Austen_: Assessment
As I've suggested there is an interesting interpretation of _P&P_ set out by a couple of changes in the plot-design and characters: Bingley did behave irresponsibly -- it was "badly done" Amanda tells him, echoing Austen's Mr Knightley to Emma after Emma insults Miss Bates; Wickham never got a chance to defend himself and his plausible story is not to be dismissed altogether the way Austen was led to, perhaps so she could "lop and chop" the longer original _First Impressions_.

The self-reflexivity, post-modern humor (which includes Amanda insists this Darcy stand in a freezing cold lake with his shirt getting all wet), and idea at the opening of why or how Austenites fall in love with Austen are all good. The acting is fine and scenes beautifully photographed.

But about half-way through invention was exhausted, and the uncertainly over what to do about sex (given the Austen fandom's cherishing the actual characters so unlike the free adaptation where modern characters can have sex, these cannot) make this a kind of broken-back attempt.

Far better than the awful _Becoming Jane_, but not as good as _Miss Austen Regrets_ or _Jane Austen in Manhattan_, the previous oddities of melanges before this one.

Ellen

Edited at 2009-05-25 02:56 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
May. 25th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
How can Jane marry Collins?
Nancy Mayer from Janeites asked:

"How can Jane and Bingley end up together if Jane Marries Collins? Unless Collins dies? If the author has them divorcing , she certainly knows nothing of the laws of the day.

Some members of our local discussion group loved _Lost in Austen_ and even had a party to play it from dvd. I do not watch much television so never saw it . I had not heard about it either until Ellen gave a synopsis of the plot.

Thanks, Ellen.

Nancy
misssylviadrake
May. 25th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
How can Jane marry Collins
I replied: Nancy the marriage between Mr Collins and Jane is annulled. Remember I said they never had sex either. It's done by Lady Catherine de Bourgh who would have the power and influence (as I said). I don't remember and didn't take down the exact words.

But much is anachronistic when you do this kind of combination -- a modern sensibility is found among the original characters, but then this is true of many of the apparently faithful adaptations.

I've decided (I know it's not that important but for what it's worth), _Lost in Austen_ is that rare form of adaptation, the pastiche. No time now to explain. I looked it up in Leitch (a book on adaptations).

Ellen

Edited at 2009-05-25 10:10 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
May. 26th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)
Annulments
From Nancy on Janeites:

"Ellen,
I have made a study of regency law, and while I am not a lawyer, I do know that mere non consummation is not grounds for annulment.
Annulments were done in the church courts and Lady Catherine would have nothing to do with it.

After about two years of marriage, Jane would have to go to court and sue for an annulment on the grounds that Mr. Collins was impotent He would have to undergo an examination by medical men and matrons to prove impotence. Only then could the marriage be annulled.

Bigamy and insanity are two other grounds for annulment, though a bigamous marriage is, of course, invalid even without it.

As I said, the author has no real concept of either Jane Austen or her time.

Nancy Mayer"
misssylviadrake
May. 26th, 2009 11:32 am (UTC)
Annulments
Thank you, Nancy. I don't know enough either. They probably did no research beyond minimal costumes and furniture.

It's also popular costume drama (rather than what's sometimes called heritage). That means quite deliberately they don't bother be historically accurate. The wider audience sought is put off by historical accuracy. We see this coming in in the recent spate of Austen adaptations too (the 07 trio, the 08 _S&S_ and the absurd _Becoming Austen_. _Miss Austen Regrets_ is overdone in its presentation of poverty like the 05 _P&P_)

They make a joke out of this at times, but as I say after the opening episode and about half-way through the second invention seems to have exhausted itself in the story line and they fall into absurdities or inconsistencies if that word is preferred.

Ellen

Edited at 2009-05-26 11:38 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
May. 27th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
The annulments
From Sylwia on Janeites:

The annulment is only one of many inconsistencies in the series. They make jokes about there being no toothbrushes in the Regency era, even though people did use toothbrushes back then. If they didn't bother to research their own witticisms it's no surprise they didn't do that for other things either. However, even if one suspends one's disbelief as to the annulment's legal probability, it's still a huge plot hole within the scenario. Lady Catherine agrees to arrange it under the condition that Amanda leaves, but Amanda stays after all, so no annulment. Amanda's final decision ultimately ruins everyone's lives, but we aren't shown that, so we are not supposed to be bothered. But then there are many other plot holes there, so by the end one more doesn't make a difference.

Do American students stage prom ball theatricals parodying their teachers? Lost in Austen is something like that. One focuses so much on parodying as many teachers as possible within one show (because it's the prom ball, so it's the first and last chance) that one forgets about the plot. Years later, whenever I meet someone from school, they still remember me as our Geography teacher, in a wig and a tartan skirt. The same way everyone will remember Elliot Cowan’s Darcy in a wet shirt a la Colin Firth, in a wig too.

I don't mind parodies, but Lost in Austen is really not that good.

Sylwia
misssylviadrake
May. 27th, 2009 02:12 pm (UTC)
Loving pop pastiche
Dear Sylwia and Nancy,

I'd say the movie is a loving pop pastiche. It presents itself as almost too dumb to be critical. It tries to appeal to a pop audience and the cult and it would counterproductive to critique Austen or romance.

Instead it imitates romance by pastiche which is a sort of speech in a dead language: many of the bad sequels are done in this dead way of speech. In the series they present a neutral practice of mimicry, no ulterior motive to satirize; it's devoid of laughter at object or any critical thought. You might call it blank parody.

It's not that well done and half-way through gives out and becomes contradictory on its own terms.

Pastiche of this kind is popular. The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes mini-series on BBC and PBS were of this type.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
May. 31st, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
Rich detail
From Laura Kennelly (C18-l and Wompo)

I'm astonished at the detail in your blog/review--which houses,
costumes, reference which films--you do know a lot! The remark that
it's Austen via Mark Twain is very funny (and true, too). The TV show reminds me of the Woody Allen short story where the guy finds a way to be in the novel Madame Bovary and his students start asking "Who's the fat Jew talking to Emma?" or something to that effect.

I'm pretty sure I'd not like to marry Darcy--and that big house to
oversee? And no running water in the house? Forget it. Cold and damp and not enough light. Even Empire-waist dresses aren't enough to make up for that!

Thanks for the blog though--I enjoyed reading your comments.

Cheers,
Laura"
misssylviadrake
May. 31st, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Rich detail
Thank you. I appreciate the praise. It encourages me to go on. Me too on marrying Darcy. There might also be a baby every year, and childbirth was often painful and traumatic and sometimes fatal. No thank you. Which is what Austen said to Biggs-Wither.

I like the connection with Woody Allen. Each film text has many precursor texts of so many types (painting, drama, other films, other books).

Cheers,
Ellen
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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