misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's perception of Christmas: novels and films

Dear friends and readers,

What in this space can I post tonight better than passages from Jane Austen's novels which uncover her perception of Christmas stills from the Austen movies redolent of Christmas which expose a few of ours?

Audrey-Fanny looks in at Scribner's Christmas window (1990 Metropolitan, Whit Stillman)

On my own (not using a search engine), I culled from Austen's 6 well-known novels (there may be references in the juvenilia and unfinished novels) passages which treat of some aspect of Christmas experienced in our century as a long family-centered festivity: What interests me is how each festivity time is shaped by ironies, be it of the character's relationship to the utterance or the situation in which the utterance is expressed.  Persuasion is less so (showing it's perhaps unfinished or much less polished state), but even there we are distanced.

Only Emma has a sequence of chapters which occur during Christmas, Vol 1, Chapters 11-16, and Christmas here is a setting which brings the other parts of the Knightley-Woodhouse families together, and creates an occasion for Emma and Mr Elton to be alone.  It is not there for its own sake, nor does it have an special (meretricious probably, unreal more neutrally) atmosphere.  The new 2009 Emma makes a rich use of intertextuality:  there's an invented scene in the snow after the carriage scene between Mr Elton and Emma; we see the scene from the point of view of the women in the windows and the action is like that of the 1995 filmic Sense and Sensibility: Mr Knightley turns to seek Emma in the window, wave and ooff! he is pelted by a snowball from one of the children; the rather rough-minded John Knightley looks at a statue his children are playing near and says to George, we used to pile snow and figures up there; well, in the film we see he has piled children on his wife.

Of the film adaptations, only Metropolitan uses Christmas to bring in some comment on the time as an experience in itself; the Bridget Jones' films both open with Christmas for atmosphere, and in order genially to satirize Christmas close on the holiday or snow as a romantic trope.

In order of publication

Sense and Sensibility:  The Miss Steeles "were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the park, and to assist in the due celebration of that festival which requires a more than ordinary share of private balls and large dinner parties to proclaim its importance."

Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley's cruel letter to Jane ends: "I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings."   .

Bridget arriving for New Year's party (O1 Bridget Jones's Diary, partly a free adaptation of P&P)

First uncomfortable forced meeting of Darcy and Bridget

She overhears his irritated insulting description of her

Happy ending, Darcy and Bridget in the snow, Christmas time (2001 Bridget Jones Diary, free adaptation of P&P)

Close, song over-voice "Someone exactly like you ..."

Mansfield Park  Mary Crawford : "Is it Christmas gaieties that he is staying for?" (she doesn't believe that for a minute)

Audrey shopping (1990 Metropolitan, a free or analogous adaptation of Mansfield Park)

Meeting a friend outside the communal event (90 Metropolitan)

Audrey-Fanny cries while singing carols at Patrick's Cathedral,Christmas eve (1990 Metropolitan)

There is a very touching one of the Tom Townsend-Edmund character watching the Yulelog on Channel 11 while his mother stays in the front room watching a Christmas movie, but I cannot get the DVD to work tonight!

Emma (chosen from the long sequence): Mr. Weston: "At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather." (Mr Weston's benign unsubtle view is not agreed with by everyone, but their demurals do not mention Christmas specifically)

The Knightley family arrived (1972 BBC Emma, transposition)

Emma and Mr Knightley shake hands, Christmas (1996 Miramax Emma, transposition)

Emma coming down the stairs, now aware that Mr Elton and she will be alone, the shock and discomfort of that carriage ride together (72 Emma)

Northanger Abbey:  'What gown and what head-dress she should wear on the occasion became  her chief concern.  She cannot be justified in it.  Dress  is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it  often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew all this very well; her great  aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and  yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted  and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of the time prevented  her buying a new one for the evening.'

Family piece, family arriving for Christmas (1972 BBC Emma)

Persuasion:  The narrator partly as Anne Elliot: "Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them.  On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.  Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain.  It was a fine family-piece."


Then The Republic of Pemberley offers a text search function that makes it easy to find all the references to the word http://www.pemberley.com/etext/index.html). It found 29 chapters that mention Christmas:

Sense and Sensibility

The 09 BBC/WBGH Emma plasy off the 1995 filmic Sense and Sensibilty with an invented window-outdoors scene where the two Knightely brothers play in the snow with the Knightley-Woodhouse children and when Mr George Knightlye turns to seek Emma at the window and wave, he is hit by a child with a snowball (as Hugh Grant as Edward turned to wave at Emma Thompson and was thumped in the stomach by Margaret's wooden sword). Emma is sad, for this is after her humiliation by Mr Elton in the carriage, she is chastised by her memory:


Seen outdoors in Hartfield garden (2009 Emma, transposition)

The point of view that of women at window; Emma a dark silhouette, Isabella, complacent with baby

Two brothers look down at children by statue and John says how they would load up statue with snow; he has loaded up his wife with children

Mr George Knightley seeking Emma at the window

Emma chastised

Oof! he gets hit in the stomach

...of fellow, I believe, as ever lived," repeated Sir John. "I remember last Christmas, at a little hop at the Park, he danced from eight o'clock till four,... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/SandS/chapter9.htm

...you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do -- and come while the Westons are with us. You cannot... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/SandS/chapter20.htm

Pride and Prejudice

...of making one in the croud -- but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter21.htm

...of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn. Mr. Gardiner was a sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter25.htm

...and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent;... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter27.htm

...of such happy promise as to make Elizabeth hope that by the following Christmas she might be so tolerably reasonable as not to mention an officer above... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter42.htm

..."Yes, she will remain there till Christmas." "And quite alone? Have all her friends left her?" "Mrs. Annesley is with her. The others have been gone... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter54.htm

...the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. -- Yours, etc." Mr. Darcy's letter to Lady Catherine, was in a... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter60.htm

04 Bridget begins with her New Year's Diary (04 Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason, a free adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion)

She comes by cab this time (04 Bridget Jones, Edge of Reason)

The hard close dissolves into romantic snow once again

As befits a movie which also alludes to Persuasion, we end on a graveyard landscape

Mansfield Park

...the misery of the girl when he left her. Luckily the visit happened in the Christmas holidays, when she could directly look for comfort to her cousin... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter2.htm

... Yes; I shall take orders soon after my father s return  probably at Christmas.  Miss Crawford, rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion,... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter9.htm

...And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays.   It was a very different thing. You must see the... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter13.htm

...still live at home, it will be all for his menus plaisirs; and a sermon at Christmas and Easter, I suppose, will be the sum total of sacrifice.  His... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter23.htm

...If they were at home to grace the ball, a ball you would have this very Christmas. Thank your uncle, William, thank your uncle!   My daughters, ... ...as himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week. Half his destiny would then be determined, but the other half might... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter26.htm

...a long one? Does he give you much account of what he is doing? Is it Christmas gaieties that he is staying for?   I only heard a part of the letter; it... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter29.htm

...into no hands more deserving of them. It was a foolish precipitation last Christmas, but the evil of a few days may be blotted out in part. Varnish and... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/MP/chapter45.htm


...and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband and their little... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter1.htm

...any more. Emma shall be an angel, and I will keep my spleen to myself till Christmas brings John and Isabella. John loves Emma with a reasonable and... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter5.htm

...taken out for the Abbey. Mr. Knightley promises to give up his claim this Christmas -- though you know it is longer since they were with him, than with... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter9.htm

Emma and little Emma, Christmas, Hartfield (1996 A&E/Meridian Emma, transposition)

Mr Knightley delighting in Knightley nephew or niece (1996 Miramax Emma).
This trope used by the four transposition Emma movies

...engagement, and out of the house too, there was no avoiding, though at Christmas. Mr. Weston would take no denial; they must all dine at Randalls one... ..."Christmas weather," observed Mr. Elton. "Quite seasonable; and extremely fortunate we may think ourselves that it did not begin yesterday, and prevent... ...no consequence. This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter13.htm

Hartfield Christmas party: Mrs Weston going for punch (96 Miramax Emma)

Mr Knightley and Emma naturally gravitate

Mr Elton has butted in

...The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas-day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter... ...Harriet possible but by note; no church for her on Sunday any more than on Christmas-day; and no need to find excuses for Mr. Elton's absenting himself.... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter16.htm

...would be so. If he had come at Christmas he could not have staid three days; I was always glad he did not come at Christmas; now we are going to have... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter23.htm

...who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting round the fire; but quite out of place, in my... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/chapter43.htm

Northanger Abbey

...college, of the name of Thorpe; and that he had spent the last week of the Christmas vacation with his family, near London. The whole being explained,...  http://www.pemberley.com/etext/NA/chapter4.htm

...very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/NA/chapter10.htm

...moment settles everything. The very first day that Morland came to us last Christmas the very first moment I beheld him   my heart was irrecoverably... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/NA/chapter15.htm


...for her to stay behind, till she might convey her to Bath herself after Christmas; but having engagements of her own, which must take her from Kellynch... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Persuasion/chapter5.htm

...mother, who must return in time to receive their younger children for the Christmas holidays, had hardly a hope of being allowed to bring her with them.... ...riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of... ...as they were reseated in the carriage, "not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays." Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Persuasion/chapter14.htm

...as you well know, affords little to write about. We have had a very dull Christmas; Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove have not had one dinner-party all the holidays.... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Persuasion/chapter18.htm

...Elliot came to Bath for a day or two, as he happened to do a little before Christmas, Colonel Wallis made him acquainted with the appearance of things,... http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Persuasion/chapter21.htm

Winter dream dance (2007 Lake House, a free or analogous adaptation of Persuasion, many scenes of which are set in winter)


A search of Google books for happy Christmas and Merry Christmas used before 1830 and found that each was used about the same number of times in the books searched by Google. Some earlier works using the long s might have been over looked, but from the results I found, I would say that in Jane Austen's day, people used both terms.

Again, most seem to have more of this ironic charge, and none of them, none take Christmas as this necessarily numinous or particularly joyful time of year. They are mostly ironic, a few prosaic.  At the same time this is a festive time of year, and can be emotional. 

Mr Knightley and Emma alone upstairs in night nursery with little Emma (72 Emma)

Turning out the light

I can't tell how much this is Austen and how much the atmosphere of a secular era she takes advantage of for her fiction before the spread of relentless advertisements changed the public perception and media treatment of Christmas.

90 Metropolitan:  Macy's gift-wrapped (so Cristo and Jeanne-Claude (of The Gates, The Umbrellas, &c) pick up on popular notions after all

Tags: jane austen films, jane austen novels, seasonal

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