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Dear Friend and readers,

About a week ago, Izzy and I saw a powerful coming-of-age film, An Education.  The auditorium we sat in had just us and one elderly couple, but since it was a Tuesday afternoon, I put it down to the time and day. However, since then I've read two snarky, sarky reviews by British journalists basically sneering at the memoir the film adapts, Lynn Barber's story of the maturation of a teenage girl in London in the 1960s, as itself snarky and sarky and just about every bad thing you could think of (snobbish, they called it, adulating Oxford -- a no no nowadays, at least in print). Further, the blogs I've seen dis it as "disappointing," just about the cleverist put-down around. So I realize that despite the brilliant acting and fine script (with many nominations of prestige awards), from the lack of advertisementsiin the press and online  that like Ang Lee's Ride to the Devil, this film is being dumped.

Why this is I cannot say except that like Peter Bogdanovich, Barber has apparently made enemies and her films will henceforth be targets for malice sans prizes. Also much of the cast and the crew too is made up of professionals who often make the BBC or ITV mini-series of older high status books; perhaps this lark of trying to apply their superior talents to a contemporary relevant girls' book won't do and is resented. Here's a chance for the enemies of those who make it in "quality" films on TV to get back.  As Izzy says, at moments it felt like members from the casts and crews of film adaptations of 19th century classics and Austen said, hey, why not do something different today and see if the cinemas will distribute it.  When I finally get to transcribing my MLA notes, I will tell of one session where it was shown that girlhood is still erased, beneath contempt, thought not productive of power by establishment and feminist groups alike.

Izzy and I so enjoyed it, that I want at least somewhere to contradict this scuttlebut of stupidity and recommend the film to everyone, but (admittedly) especially women as to the point and riveting today.

Carey Mulligan, as Jenny, the A-level student at the opening of the film

Olivia Williams, as her much put-upon and put-down Latin teacher, coping with a class of girls not exactly engaged by their Latin texts; nonetheless, she saves her star pupil's Jenny's future

IN a nutshell, based on a memoir from the 1960s by Lynn Barber, also titled An Education (I link in a typical resentful review),  a film directed by Lone Sherfig, screenplay by Nick Hornby and produced by Amanda Posey and Finola Dwyer, we see Jenny (Carey Mulligan) learning a hard lesson in life.  Jenny is a very smart schoolgirl in a grammar school who is studying hard to get superior A levels in order to go to Oxford.  Her parents are in two minds about this, especially her working class father, Jack (Alfred Molina), and when they see her attracted to and apparently taken up for marraige by a a seemingly powerful , gentle, and well-meaning if  older man, David (Peter Sarsgard), they do nothing to stop the romance from blooming.  

The scene after Jenny loses her virginity; the film focuses on this after moment rather than the sex scene itself.  She feels grown-up is the idea -- symbols include the cigarette, lovely slip.

Alas, this Jane Eyre (alluded to a couple of times by the dialogue has caught  a much inferior Mr Rochester -- he turns out not only to be married, but an unscrupulous child-like childish man adding to his income by bullying elderly people and alluring young girls to become his mistress (until they get pregnant)  by seeming effortlessly to be able to offer them an eternally splendid life of high excitement, culture, beauty with no effort on their part but going along,  One need only be silent about his lies and ignore the shady dealing behavior she glimpses he practices with his louche partner, Danny (Dominic Cooper). 

Flat faced intense dancer is Danny

Danny's girlfriend, Helen (Rosamond Pike) is there to re-dress Jenny and teach her to be silent, compliant, sexy, and conventionally attractive, and of course go along and make herself scarce when necessary.

Jenny begins to think her studies in an allgirls school of Latin and English hard, boring, irrelevant.   She falls in with her father's dismissal of Oxford and her mother Marjorie's (Cara Seymour's) complicity>  Marjorie's remark when Jenny says she is engaged to David: do you have to marry him. This shows she has surmized the affair has become fully physical; she stays up late waiting for her daughter as a way of vicariously joining in:

Her father and mother admire this superficial or appearance of power and glamor:

Jenny dismisses and insults her apparently pathetic spinster teachers, including Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams is superb as someone who privately lives the plain worthwhile life and in school endures scenes of excessive stupidity) and a narrow hard headmistress.  Emma Thompson so perfect in the part I began to laugh and cry all at once and bang my hand on the seat next to me at her, so real was she and so mean when Jenny came for a second chance -- none of that here, my dear:

Jenny learns the hard lesson of not so.  It's following David about that leads nowhere, that is hollow and after a while exposed as dependent on tissues of lies. An important part of his charm (and a feature of women's films) is how willing he is to wait until she's ready to have sex. She doesn't want to go "all the way" until she's 17. He wants to use baby talk with her too; it is she who says, let us call each other by our real names when they finally do have intercourse.  So she feels in control.

Then Jenny makes the mistake of showing her affair off. She has already flouted it, her work is suffering, the headmistress has warned here.  Well, she is expelled, and does not take her exams, and then on the evening of their engagement party (a dinner with her parents), she discovers David has a wife by some envelopes in his car.

In the above still, now dressed in a faux adult way, Jenny is in the position of Jane Eyre after she comes back from church; Jenny and her parents have come back from David's fancy car and restaurant treat

Sally Hawkins is stunning in her role as Sarah, the long-suffering wife and brief dialogue (with a son in tow), asking Jenny condescendingly if "she's in the family way" and becoming relieved for Jenny's sake that Jenny is not "For some of the others have been."

What leads to fulfillment is independence - and that is to be gotten only by a fulfilling self-respecting profession. After Jenny attempts to persuade the headmistress to take her back and fails, she goes to Miss Stubb's apartment. Small, plain, but with things (copies of great paintings Jenny watched David and Danny scoop up dishonestly in an auction) Miss Stubbs values, the teacher's rich resource is the dignity of her own mind.  She is generous enough to forget and to forgive, to tutor Jenny so that when she comes to take her exams at the end of the year on her own, she does so well, she is accepted to Oxford, and gets her life back.  Here is Miss Stubbs looking wistfully after Jenny in the school after Jenny has treated Miss Stubbs's way of life as valueless; she is sorry for the girl:

What we see in this moment and film as a whole, is the limited choices life has to offer girl, and what these really are or mean. Your dreams can mislead you.  Here is Jenny listening to a French chanteuse on her record-player and dreaming of Paris:

To which David will take her one romantic weekend: where they fall into imitating French looks and what they feel tourists do (Eiffel  Tower, sit along embankment and snark), lay out on esplanade:

Our dreams lead us astray.  Virtue not cigarettes,

reading and hard study are the way for one can rely for fulfillment only on the stability of truth. It is a moral tale for young women.  Jenny faces up to the reality she lied too: she cannot accuse others of accepting lies when she did -- a beautiful scene occurs when her father outside her door with a cup of tea and two biscuits tells of how he discovered she had lied when she said when she and David went to Oxford C.W. Lewis had signed her Narnia book.  We are to learn to ignore the sneers of the Helens when we see how obedient Helen is to Danny in one scene and how helpless if he should try to dump her.  Would there were more of these kinds of film showing women's limited choices, the consequences of taking this or that option, the continuum of roles on offer for women.

My quarrels with the film and these are not nothing is 1) all the actresses but Thompson and Seymour are anorexic, and that includes Mulligan. Their upper arms are like sticks; their shoulders so angular it's painful to look at. 2)  We  end on Oxford where suddenly all is green, pastoral, easy; Jenny apparently herself now lies to her younger suitors; the closing still of Jenny riding on a bike next to a young man riding too reminded me of Brideshead Revisited.  This closing sop to nostalgia belies Jenny's goal, which leads to my last assertion that 3) we should have ended on Miss Stubbs at home, but I could find nary a still



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
From Ann on WWTTA:

"I've read both posts about this film and Ellen's blog and am surprised you think the film is being 'dumped'. That is not the case in the UK, in fact it is widely expected to win the British Academy of Film and Television Awards as best film. Indeed, on BBC Radio this morning a film critic expressed just that opinion despite the hype about Avatar. An Education has been nominated in seven categories here.

Certainly over the Christmas/New Year period the more thought-provoking films get shunted aside to make way for 'family' entertainment - especially whilst the schools are on holiday - so their profile does take a dip. It is also unfortunate that outside the main cities films like Education often have to rely primarily on small art-house cinemas for exposure. There used to be an excellent one five minutes walk from my home which also used to bring contemporary theatre/dance from London. It always seemed to be packed, though still struggled financially and was taken over by the local council who moved it to the other side of town 'because that's where the bus depot is' and the programme now is much more mainstream. Disappointing, but not unexpected ... "

Edited at 2010-01-21 04:38 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the encouragement, Ann.

Here in the US, well the DC area, the movie is playing in but one small art-movie house (and such films often play in a couple) and has had no ads. The day my daughter and I went the auditorium was empty but for one elderly couple. I've read three British journal article and one British blog: the two journalists spent their time hating the person who wrote the memoir, and the blog damned the movie.

I did notice the nominations and should have mentioned them. The people making the film (including stars) all know people in the industry and that could help account for nominations.

But even four swallows do not a summer make, and I'm glad to hear the film is getting wide exposure in the UK; the awards will help keep it in the theaters here. So thank you. I'm glad my blog may get a readership then. I'm told that nowadays some film-makers can regard theatre showings as ads for DVDs.

I guess my tendency is more in this direction, though I would state it so strongly myself: ""The worst betrayal of intelligence is finding justification
for the world as it is." --- Jean Guehenno

Edited at 2010-01-21 04:55 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Here's a link to an intelligent UK review Ellen:


I'm not surprised that some film-makers consider showings as ads for DVDs. I've often enjoyed a film and bought the DVD - with art-house, it might be years before another screening!


Edited at 2010-01-21 06:37 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
From Patricia on WWTTA:

"I read your fererecnce on to Education you saw with your daughter.
I saw the film with my daughter ... at Barnard College, all girls please note. Please note as well my daughter has overall been very unhappy at college: LOVES her classes, loves the EDUCATION she is getting. But mainly mourns the lack of kind, interested, supportive young women. No matter the dept of study, the girls are still, as in high school, "mean girls" clique-ish, selfish, insensitive, many Barnard students are from California or the outlying NEW YORK suburbs ... groveling after those SAME values the Education(Nick Hornby film) film and our so called WOmen's Movement sought to question and change.

Push up bras, anyone?

I read your entire blog? on yours and Izzy's reaction to the film and it absolutely breaks my heartthat such a lovely delicate
subtle well acted film is dumped.

But look at what is adulated: ATAVAR. That is the god film and that pig James Cameron a BILLIONAIRE God.

Keep writing and reading with us dear Ellen.

Your post saddens me, and we absolutely loved the film.


Edited at 2010-01-21 09:24 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed Ellen's review of 'An Education' very much and would like to see it - I also like Nick Hornby so his involvement is an added attraction. Unfortunately it only showed in my town for one week, elbowed out by other films over Christmas as Ann said.

However, I hope it may get a second run in the light of all its BAFTA nominations - it seems as if it is also likely to get Oscar nominations, with Carey Mulligan being tipped all over the place.

I'll admit I've never been an admirer of Lynn Barber, but I did enjoy this piece she wrote in The Times about the making of the movie, and thought I'd pass on the link:

Jan. 22nd, 2010 04:56 am (UTC)
Thank you to both Linda and Judy for passing on the URLs and Patricia for her comments on Barnard, another all-women's college. The intelligent review by Kate Stables mentions that Sherfig directed _Italian for Beginners_. Izzy and I saw that the first summer we began to go to the movies together. I still remember moments from it. It was delightful. I knew nothing about Lynn Barber before I saw the film, and this is the first text by her I've read. I can see she doesn't bother with pretending to have tact enough not to hurt someone's feelings, and she does go on a bit. But then I write at length too :) I can well believe the project took years to get off the ground.

As Stables says, it's one thing to have a young hero looking for some serious niche in life; another to focus on a girl.

Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
"An Education"
Ellen, because you saw An Education in an empty theater doesn't mean it's doing poorly or being "dumped." It's been very well received, and has been playing for many weeks in the art houses here in L.A. I just checked and it's still running in New York, too, where it opened last October. It's made $10 million at the box office, which isn't bad for an art film - and it's still running! There's a contingent of British journalists who always write snarkily; that's what they do. Sure, this film isn't a big commercial kind of hit like Avatar, but it wouldn't be. It's quite successful as art films go, with its extended runs in big cities, where movies like that play. It's a perennial fact that more people want to see Avatar than art films, and they don't often play in small towns; but it's always been that way. There's nothing to lament in the particular treatment of this film.

Your review makes me want to see the movie. It's playing just down the street!

Jan. 23rd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
From Nick, also to say the film is getting much attention and awards and explain why Lynn Barber is not liked:

"I read the terrific blog on An Education - this is on my TBW list anyway. Actually I think the two sniffy reviews may have been a bit of an exception as the film has just been nominated for quite a few BAFTAS (Brit Oscars). Also I would have to say that - although this is absolutely unfair as a criteria to judge the film by - it would not be surprising that Barber has made quite a lot of enemies. In the dim and distant past when I read the Observer I was not a fan of her inquisitorial and aggressive interviewing style which in my view came perilously close to (if not tipping over into) bullying. Further I was never sure of the extent to which she shaped her interviewees responses - the extent to which they were really allowed to answer back and speak for themselves. Indeed I am suspicious of all interviews in whatever medium which are not unedited ad verbatim for precisely this reason. As I say it would be very unfair to judge a fictional film from this perspective but might provide an explanation of some reactions."
Apr. 27th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
From Linda:
I recently enjoyed the film "An Education" and reread Ellen's excellent blog on it.

Ellen says"

"The "education" and lesson in life our heroine gets means far more than her learning to study and go to school. She learns that the dull school is an open door to a wider life because she makes associations with better as well as more educated people, can become independent financially. And so on."

All too true. It was a great film for demonstrating the different paths and roles open to women--really their narrow options--and the consequences of choosing a particular path, each path with its own set of difficulties and challenges.

All in opposition to that great dreamer, Jenny, who prefers not to settle into a mundane existence but to take the high road of fun and excitement. Jenny, like many young women, wants to believe there must be something better out there--but alas, there is not. To have something to hold onto, one must earn it and pay the price.

Her teacher, Miss Stubbs, is a role model and interesting character. She has independence and financial security achieved through her own efforts, but her life seems tedious and lonely. Jenny is like her in some ways--bright and sensitive and bookish--but different in temperament, being lively and vivacious in contrast to Miss Stubb's staid and sober personality. We think initially she will imitate Miss Stubbs but will depart from the path Miss Stubbs took at some point and find her own way.

What really saves Jenny from total disaster and dissolution is, I think, the fact that she comes from an unusually loving family. They are warm and genuinely caring, if somewhat confused. The scene outside Jenny's bedroom door with her father is, as Ellen said, quite beautiful. It is her father's attempt to reach out to her and console and comfort her. I can't imagine many fathers I know reaching out to their children that way.. Molina is outstanding as the father.

It is interesting, too, that the film shows us that David seduces not only Jenny but the whole family. He is an exquisite con man. We see that Jenny's parents are also drawn into his fantasies that life can be a lot of fun--that they, too, have been disappointed by the tedium and limitations of life.

I'm not sure why Jenny was attracted to David. He seemed from the beginning to be rather shallow and not that bright. She was flattered by the attention, I imagine, and later in awe of the clubs and places he took her. When she discovered he was married, his lack of responsibility and essential lack of caring stood out in bold relief compared to her own loving and responsible parents.

The word "education" in the title may refer to the viewer as well as the heroine. It is an education for us, too, and something to ponder.

Apr. 27th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
The villain-hero protagonist
From Catherine:

"Dear Linda,

I see David as far worse than "shallow and not that bright." He is a predator. Seduces virgin girls not that much for sex, but for the perverse pleasure of breaking their hearts later, preferably gets them pregnant and then arranges for them to discover he is married.

See how he cleverly organizes it with Jenny. He puts the mail in the name of "Mr. and Mrs." in the glove box, excuses himself, knowing she will open it to reach for cigarettes. When she is with her parents too, so he ensures maximum emotional impact.

To me he is a sociopath and may graduate to serial killing some day. Jenny had a very close escape.

Chilling. Great, great film."

Linda responded:

"Yes, I agree with Catherine that David is a predator and worse than "shallow and not bright."

Interesting, too, how all the little white lies in the film snowball into great deceptions.

Apr. 28th, 2010 05:09 am (UTC)
Aesthetically and being conned
Dear Catherine and all--

There was a review on bfi.org.uk from November 2009 cited in a comment to Ellen's blog. It treated the film from the point of view of its achievements as film. Why and how it worked. It touched in part on some of the ideas Catherine mentioned and explained why we weren't tipped off more to David's character:

"This is a film fuelled by conversation in which important questions go unasked and flickers of moral unease are stubbed out like cigarettes (as when Jenny learns that David and Danny's theft of a valuable map must be dismissed as a caper).

Indeed, the film is so delectable that it's easy to overlook quite how fatally charming it has rendered this spiky tale of betrayal. The film invokes a very English ironic understatement about the story's more unsettling elements: David's nymphophilia, fakery and thieving, Jack's dangerous naivety and eagerness to dash Jenny's academic hopes for a good match - all these become droll interludes. This unwillingness to name and shame..."

I do like Catherine's view of David as a predator--even to the way he engineered her discovery of his marital status. But why he would do this, I haven't a clue. He was, no doubt as Catherine said, a sociopath. In real life, this man ended up in prison. In real life (based on the memoir, which I haven't read), our heroine felt much more damaged by the whole experience.

There were times in the film when I would feel a creep start up my spine--as when he talked baby talk in the bedroom--but the film moved too quickly, and I was distracted before I could fully explore the unsettling feelings produced by David. There was also the comic element advanced by Helen.

Throughout the whole film, I kept wondering what Jenny was doing with these people. It didn't make any sense--she was not like them and shouldn't feel comfortable with them. The reviewer cited above mentioned that Jenny's romance was with the world and not with David.

There was that aspect, too. I never thought she really loved David. I would expect her to feel betrayed but not heartbroken. She did make a good recovery in the film.

Finally, I realized that I was conned by David, too. When he was out in car, getting himself together to come in and talk to them all, I fully expected him to walk in the door. That he didn't shows again how much the audience was taken in, too.By the standards of his world, he was quite a talented fellow.

Apr. 28th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
Why David carries on; how the world sees Miss Stubbs
Dear Linda, Catherine and all,

I'm about to toddle off to bed and have just read Catherine and Linda's postings today.

Thoughtful and relevant. I'm thinking maybe I should try for Barber's memoir, as I do think the film at the end slides a bit over the trauma and destruction of what happened. We are not just expected to believe our heroine is now fine, thriving but (sort of) all her problems are now solved, just about.

The reality is they are not. Finish college and you must get a job to be independent and what kinds of jobs are available to women.

Which gets me to why I feel "sociopath" and other castigating terms are too strong for David. I do detest him and see him as profoundly dangerous for women with his indifference to what happens to Jenny, but by so naming him we suggest that society disapproves of him, and that he's somehow stigmatized for us.

He isn't. The thing about the film is it shows that the society around David not just tolerates him, but falls for his values of shoddy entertainment as culture, of bullying people to make big cash,
and of networking with the glamorous or famous. At the end of the film all this vanishes but it does not disappear. The three cons just go elsewhere.

Consider Miss Stubbs -- also her name. She's an old maid and is made to look it. The film wants us to see that she's the one who saves Jenny but it does not pretty her up nor give her a rich apartment.

The headmistress remains a punisher.

Jenny's mother goes for David because her life is dull.

To this extent, even if the ending is utopian, even if the young women are all anorexic in body, it shows us what our choices feel and look like to others.

I found Sally Hawkins as David's wife stunning because she endures it, and lives with it, and is going nowhere else. Also that she implies Jenny has not been the only one, and some David impregnated. Consider how hard it is in the US to get an abortion. You'd be stuck with a compulsory pregnancy.

So I liked how the film showed how easy it is for Jenny to fall for David and how hard to turn to Miss Stubbs.

Apr. 28th, 2010 11:04 am (UTC)
A remarkable review
From Linda:

"The url for the review I mentioned in my last post is as follows (if it works):

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/review/5161/ - Sent Using Google Toolbar

About which Fran wrote:

Thanks for the link. The article even closes with an allusion to Farideh's

' An Education's lasting lesson is that a little learning may be
a dangerous thing, but a lot of it can be a lifeline.'

Serendipity or did I miss a mail in between?

Apr. 28th, 2010 11:06 am (UTC)
A little learning
Fran's comment alludes to a thread we had:

"On the theme of learning, Farideh asked about a book title: _A Little Learning_, and Fran answered and we had the following dialogue on WWTTA:

Thank you very much .I also had this pleasure to receive a note from our dear Fran:

“By the way, you asked earlier about a book title by Caro Fraser, ‘A little Learning’. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but now I’ve seen a brief synopsis of the plot and discovered it’s set at a place of education, I’d say she’s playing on the multiple associations of the gerund ‘Learning’ itself. ‘Learning’ means academic education or scholarship; learning for a lesson; a life lesson, or, given the depressing relationship scenario, I imagine she might want to conjure up ironic associations with the little
idiom, ‘a little learning goes a long way’

And as I wrote to Fran I found in Longman Dictionary of English language and current culture , this explanation on this title: “A Little Learning “. Please read it and tell me know your idea .I mean please clarify it for me. I still need more explanations!:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not thePierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.”


First used by Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) in An Essay on Criticism, 1709.


To which I replied at first:

Dear Farideh,

It could mean “a lesson” too. It would worry me as it’s a sign the author hasn’t a firm grasp on English, not to be able to pick a title that is graspable right away. It reminds me of Jacqueline Suzanne’s ludicrously titled, “Once is
not enough.” It wasn’t what she meant.

On the other hand, we could see the crude hand of interfering editor here … ”

But then went on to say:

Farideh, Fran has gone so much further than me in answering your question. Instead of (lazily here, and not thinking) assuming the title is perhaps the publisher’s (inadequate or misleading) choice or a sign the author nodded, she connected to the way “An Education” was used in the recent excellent film (based on a young woman’s memoir):


The “education” and lesson in life our heroine gets means far more than her learning to study and go to school. She learns that the dull school is an open door to a wider life because she makes associations with better as well as more educated people, can become independent financially. And so on.

A little learning goes a long way (as Fran puts it) means something different from Pope’s famous line. What Fran means is more like it’s painful to learn about life and a little may be all we can endure. So in “An Education” our heroine does not need more than one affair to teach her the indifference to one another’s fates her experience shows her others have. Her boyfriend couldn’t care less how much he was costing her in her destiny as long as that night he was having a good time. When he felt threatened he could lose her, he lied just worse and pretended he could marry her – just to hold on to her.

How many knocks do you need to learn a lesson? How many times do you need to be raped to learn what sex can be?

Fran suggests a look at Fraser’s other books bears out this reading of the title.


I think perhaps Pope’s famous line is only a starter, often quoted because it’s early in seculiarism, is catchy. So here it may mislead.

It’s a very conservative or prudential stance and can be used to support the idea people should stay in their own station and that education will make them unhappy or miserable because set their heights too high — all very unkind to individuals in the short as well as long run.

Here Samuel Johnson’s reply must be brought it:

“I am always afraid of determining on the side of envy or cruelty. The privileges of education may, sometimes, be improperly bestowed, but I shall always fear to withhold them, lest I should be yielding to the suggestions of pride, while I persuade myself that I am following the maxims of policy; and, under the appearance of salutary restraints, should be indulging the lust of dominion, and that malevolence which delights in seeing others depressed.

Apr. 28th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
David's wife
n response to Ellen, I would add that David's wife is the only character in the movie who is grounded in eality--the only one who sees things as they are. This is in contrast to everyone else who is trying to escape to a fantasy world.

Her level-headedness is a breath of fresh air in this upside down world.

She sees David for what he is, and she sees Jenny in a clear-sighted way, too. She grasps the whole situation in an instant. (Perhaps, Miss Stubbs did, too.)

She has made her bed, and she will lie in it. Her child is enough of a reward for her at this point in time. Maybe at another point in time, she will opt out--but not now. She understands life's limitations in a way Jenny's family
doesn't. In this respect, she is somewhat like Miss Stubbs--and perhaps without David, she fears she would be Miss Stubbs--alone.

Apr. 28th, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
Educating men
You didn't miss anything, Fran: the two threads converged.

One thing I wanted to mention about the review is it's assertion that "class" "aspiration" is the central fuel that enables David to get away with what he does: "Class is a covert obsession for all the central characters, from David's fraudulent urbanity to Jenny's hunger for the carefree poshness of his friends Danny and Helen; and, most entertainingly, for Jenny's terminally insecure father, Jack. Aspiration is the essential motor of Alfred Molina's funny-sad performance as this naive, cardiganed martinet, hopelessly vulnerable to David's synthetic bonhomie and genial Goon impersonations."

It's not useful to ask which is the more pernicious or hurtful category: what class we are or what gender we are. It's both. So I want to take up Linda's point that David's wife is 1) a realistic and accepts the situation; 2) all the while seeing what David is, goes to bed with him -- what for? why to have a meal ticket; and 2) fears being Miss Stubbs, being alone.

She's summing up one aspect of what I wrote last night. Now I'd like to bring in Gabrielle's brother from Mistress of a Revolution, and say he, like David, is a horror but is not just accepted but fawned over at times.

We are touching on a larger important issue. We are often told that feminists are man-haters, man-denouncers and thus unacceptable. Who can hate half the human race? I'd say this accusation which is endlessly repeated comes out of this feminist stance: we say such men should not be tolerated; the society ought to behave in a way that makes them outcast, not reward them. We ought not to say to bully and steal an expensive object from a lone aging woman is a caper. We ought to despise the man and if necessary drag him into court, humiliate him somehow and make this character one which doesn't get jobs.

We don't. What feminists say is this male behavior is a cultural construction and must change. What non-feminists or anti-feminists say is this is natural to the male. It's nature for him to rape women (Roy Porter, the intelligent 18th century historian comes up with this one, at the same time as he says such men are marginal, not the good central men of our society -- they aren't if you look at the statistic for rape and how rape happens).

So when the feminists denounce this behavior and say it must change, she is seen as denouncing men. The reality is men are _educated_, brought up to admire and maybe be sexual predators; they are not punished for it. I see in my neighborhood parents bringing up sons differently from girls; allowing and encouraging abrasive ruthless behavior they would not in girls. Sometimes the reason brought forth is they don't want him to be girlish. Better to bring him up to be a bully and sneak rather than be seen as feminine lest he become homosexual.

Underlying this is the idea he needs to be such a horror to make money and lots of it, and he's allowed to be this way since supposedly the onus is on him to make the money. Feminists say that's a privilege, not an onus. The would like to make the money themselves, and be independent.

Rewind to David's wife. She doesn't accept him; she loathes going to bed with him. She lives with it because 1) she can't get a better job, and 2) Miss Stubbs is stigmatized.

The old maid, the blue stocking, the teacher is a core of the film. It's the fear of being Miss Stubbs that kept Jenny's mother with Jack.
Rosemary Pike's character does not only say Latin's a waste of time; she spends time making Jenny look sexually alluring to men.

But I think the important thing here is that the society educates and David to be the way he is, and when feminists protest this they are called man haters. What they are is women-protectors for half the human race that is female matters. The film's real loser is David's wife; so too Jack's. E.M.
Apr. 28th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
More on Miss Stubbs and the headmistress
Carrying on my comment to Fran:

The film wants us to admire Miss Stubbs but doesn't have the courage of its convictions. At the end Jenny is bicyling with a handsome boy. She is not seen in the library studying. We are unwilling to opt for Miss Stubbs.

Now there was no need to make Miss Stubbs flat-chested looking and ugly. Reading women may not get themselves up to be super-sexy that's all. The film makes us cringe for Miss Stubbs; she is caricatured. In the New Yorker cartoon album in our files we have a picture of a reading woman as pathetic and flat-chested. Tertium non est?

Ah, last night when my class was over, two students came up to the front who wanted to bully me: one to allow him to pass a course he failed to take (insolent and threatening), the other to bully me into giving her a grade she didn't deserve. How I wish I could have acted like Emma Thompson's headmistress. My real reaction to such people is they are despicable. But we don't most of us dare. Emma Thompson's character gets away with it because her school has intense prestige to get the girl into the "right" school for the "right" connections in the hope of the good job and man with a big and prestigious income/job. Yes again the film encourages us to feel she should have forgiven Jenny, as Jenny is trying to rehabilitate herself, but often students are not. They are Davids or characters like Rosemary Pike's.


Apr. 29th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC)
More on David and Jack

I think in your last posting, you are being way harsh toward some of the characters.

Miss Stubbs, for instance. Miss Stubbs may be flat-chested and anorexic but she is not ugly. She is not pathetic. She is brave to go it alone, and we admire her for it--in the same way we admired our spinster teachers when we were in elementary school. They had dignity...of mind and of person. Miss Stubbs has made her peace with the world--she is not particularly unhappy. Her style is not the popular style, but we respect her for being her own person.

I don't think you can compare David's wife to Jack's. We dont really know anything about Davids wife. Jack's marriage seems to me to be an ordinary one--better than most in the family's closeness and support of one another. They love one another, and that is more than a lot of people have. Jack may be very imperfect, but he is still accepted and valued in his family circle. He is a caring man, and they are a caring family. I don't think his wife settled or made a bad decision in being with him.

I was glad Emma Thompson did not take Jenny back. It was a touch of reality.

I don't think it is society that teaches David's brand of villainy. There is kink there from some other source--an abusive childhood perhaps? I can't pretend to know. He is outside the social current, not of it.

The ending did leave things somewhat up in the air. Jenny is going to Paris with a new boy friend. She is still seeking glamour and fun. She is still telling lies. We wonder how much she has learned and if she is still foolish. We would like to see more of Miss Stubbs in her.

The author of the original memoir did say the movie bore no resemblance to her real life.

Apr. 29th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
David and Jack and their wives and Miss Stubbs
In response to Linda,

It's odd to me you should defend Jack when the point of my posting was to argue that the central core problem that makes a film like _An Education_ so valuable is to show us that society tolerates and admires the Davids of the world. David goes unpunished. He can carry on the way he supports himself just fine; his wife won't leave him, nothing he wanted is threatened except maybe nights in bed with Jenny and squiring her around as a trophy. As his wife said, he'll find another. He is another version of Gabrielle's brother who also goes unpunished and rewarded and is admired and his values followed by the woman around him who urge Gabrielle to compromise which means destroying her life.

My point was we should not call David a sociopath since he plays a role people admire; he even knows how to look as if he's connected to respected people. This too is what is admired, not at all necessarily the respected or famous person. Since you bring up Jack, we may ask, Did Jack ever read so much as one of C.S Lewis's books? no. What does he value C.S. Lewis for? as someone famous who might do something for Jenny. What? Get her a prestigious job.

All the while Jack is against spending money to send his daughter to Oxford; he only succumbs after she has been so hurt and looks like she was near destruction.

Jack is an important character in the story for he was against Jenny going to Oxford and only for it when it seemed glamorous or is a hedge against his daughter ending up nowhere. Yes the family sticks together and they don't throw Jenny out and carry on supporting her during the year she studies, but I gather the memoir presents them as strongly at fault for what happened.

I agree. And I think Jack far more important here than his wife who just follows him -- the way David's wife sticks to him and for the same reasons. Yes they mean well, but the film's strength is to show us that people who mean well make bad choices and enact norms and values that are awful.

Our disagreement is that I think David is in the society current in the way he behaves sufficiently. And I think many women have written books to show the way men are educated to be is pernicious to women (like Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Mansfield Park -- Henry Crawford for example). My larger point was this is why feminism is called male hating when what the movement is about is to say the ways males are encouraged to behave is awful. I pointed to what I see in my neighborhood when the young parents are "teaching" their sons and daughters what is acceptable and themselves show what they admire.

I just bought the book.

Myself I love what Miss Stubbs stands for. I'm talking about how this image functions in our society. It functions to make women fear being reading girls. Many watching this film would dread being a Miss Stubbs. And she's a caricature -- that's why I pointed to her flat-chest. Look at all sorts of pictures of reading girls. Watch the 1995 Pride and Prejudice: the actress playing Mary was made to look very ugly and given up lift-up bra.

Both book and movie are art. That's why they can bear no close resemblance to life. Life is too painful and if we really told what we experience, it would causes terrible rucuses, so people offer shaped patterned, generalized and semi-censored versions of themselves.

Just on Jenny's mother, Jack's wife. I'd rather than live than live her life. Not as bad as David's but in essense she must obey this man and he is a fool. The larger issue here is how women have such pitiful choices. Me too. I've had to chose the lesser of many evils too. E.M.


Apr. 29th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
David and Jack and their wives and Miss Stubbs (again)
I see I mistyped a line: I really did say I'd rather not live than live as either Jack or David's wife. Truly. To me it'd amount to the same life.

This does give me a chance to say to Linda also that I feel the way she does about Miss Stubbs, but think most people wouldn't and the caricature of her body hurts women in general -- and connects to the contempt and uneasiness associated with women called bluestockings -- and in the 17th century precieuses.

Apr. 30th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
Philosophical differences

I agree with most of what you say about feminist issues. I just don't think this film is the best vehicle to demonstrate these issues.

Ellen says:

"But I think the important thing here is that the society educates and David to be the way he is, and when feminists protest this they are called man haters. What they are is women-protectors for half the human race that is female matters.

I agree that feminists are female protectors--and they do and have done important work. Society turned a blind eye for centuries to male behavior that exploited and abused women--wife beating, for instance. Much behavior is no longer tolerated as it once was in earlier times. There is still a great deal of work to be done.

David is charming and good-looking, and these are qualities society admires, but that is the extent of our admiration. He is a philandering low-life, committing illegal acts. We put people in prison for doing what he does. He loves fun--okay, we love people who love fun. We applaud men who sport pretty young women on their arm--but we do not condone the way David gets his fun--through ill-gotten funds, lying and deception.

I don't agree that society educates men to be like David. We don't encourage men or women to lie, deceive, and manipulate to get what they want. To achieve their heart's desire by any means or at any cost. Those are not the mores of society. How can you say we educate men to be like David?

In any circle, except the underworld from which he hails, he would be despised as a person of no character and undesirable attributes.


A little later:

"Thinking it over, there is one area in which David's behavior might be overlooked--not by society in general, but by other young men. I'm thinking actually of the college boys of my youth in the early sixties.

That would be in the area of sexual conquest. A young man might be esteemed for managing to have sex with a young woman--no matter the cost or deception to the young lady involved.And yes, there would be the Helens, who have already lost everything, going along with it.

But in general it would not be acceptable to family types and older folks. These groups might accept casual sex but would still respect innocence and lobby for more meaning in relationships.

I have no idea what kind of sex lives young people have nowadays. I doubt the values of the old frat boys of the 60's are still in place. I would hope that much of the male chauvinism of that time has gone for good.


Edited at 2010-04-30 11:42 am (UTC)
Apr. 30th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
Philosophical differences
Probably Linda and I have more common ground here than is at first self-evident, and if I say we do differ and probably in the end would have to agree to differ, it's to be as candid as one can and make the discussion more interesting. I have been called a cynic and misanthrope; both are words which come with heavy negative connotations for many people. Not for me so much -- I defended cynicism the other day on Trollope19thCStudies; as to misanthropy, I'd say the kind of vision that fuels the anger we see in say a Swift or Andrea Dworkin is the same sort that underlies the retreat of the Princess in La Princesse de Cleves and the ending of LaClos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses (which I've just been writing about on ECW and Janeites). It's there subdued in Austen too.

It may be Linda's lucky in her friends; in my experience, there's lots of hypocrisy about what people say they admire and what they do (older people too). Barber is said to have condemned her heroines' parents strongly: David is able to seduce Jack because he does seem to have all the world says is worth having, which does not include high culture and learning and integrity, but rather plenty of money, connections, travel, all the goods that come with prestige (fancy car). I'm a reader of Trollope and 19th century novels: Trollope's The Way We live Now was recently made into a successful film adaptaton: it's central figure is a CEO type, a Donald Trump type, who commits suicide because he's caught.

David gets caught, found out. But he carries on afterwards once again.

(Dickens has the equivalent in Merdle in Little Dorrit. Consider today's bankers -- what is fuelling the anger against them is their riches are now apparently gotten through the misery they have wreaked on most of society, and they couldn't care less. They just pretend to -- or some of them do -- before congressional committees.)

On the sexual angle: the books I read, the people I talk to, all say the position for women is as bad as ever, only bad in a different way.
We had a long thread on how rape is accepted when the woman can be shown to have gone out with the man in the first place; recently on another list I'm on people were confirming how badly a raped women is treated in centers supposedly there to help her.

One of the central themes of feminism is education: we want to re-educate (if you will) retrain men to respect and treat as equals the other half of the human race. It's only in little ways that one sees the way education works to produce sexual predators and ruthless aggression in men (and women in this case too). The book by Carol Gilligan on the Psychology of Women is one which argues we have to change the norms of our society to those women have been trained to follow (partly I'd say to keep them down and abject).

May. 10th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
Lynn Barber's An Education
I started this little memoir last night and found myself just devouring it remarkably quickly. Mine is an old English copy (published before the movie, or just around that time). I'm half-way through. Since a more than a few of us have been grabbed by this film and dialogued a lot, I thought I'd post a few thoughts.

First, only a tiny proportion was used for the film, say the openng 48 out of 172 pages. And it is not bitter the way others say -- unless the word bitter is used to mean candid and truth-telling; probably it's that she doesn't disguise her parents's lacks and her own amorality.

What comes across to me is its truth which I can't measure when it comes to the UK suburb in the 1950s, but do feel I know about in the sections afterwards. She describes her early years living with her now husband when they are not yet married and working. I'm stunned to remember how easy it was to get a job then, and also how boring most office jobs were. In a way there was often little to do that was useful: she describes the way men would dictate letters, women type them up and send them out -- letters with scarcely any content. The prices of flats, of food, of clothes, of an education and the whole comparatively relaxed way of life is accurate -- nothing exaggerated.

We -- or I -- forget how much things have changed in the last 30-40 years.

The 1960s as an era with its mores is not presented as any idealistic or idyl but it was not this economic desperate time we have now -- one concocted deliberately by those in power who altered the economic and social arrangements through changing the tax and other systems, and by those who just fired all the people they could when they saw they could get away with it, and put a stop to governments providing housing.

And this matters. She is no overt feminist. I've gotten about half-way through and the central event of her life, is Reader I married him. Who? well, her husband's name is David (the creep -- so to speak -- in the movie is called Simon), a colleague and partner, and they have been married many years.

The word "education" does include far more than reading, but she does center on the importance of the academic education for a girl to give her the possibility of a real career, independence, and to open her mind.

I'm enjoying it very much.

May. 11th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
The name David

In a comment to your blog, someone gave a URL to an interview with Barber. Her husband's name was David, but he was not the creep in the movie. Simon was the creep, and she was disturbed that they renamed him David in the film.. Her husband had just passed away, and she says she should have fought harder to have that villain in the film called something else.

May. 13th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
More on the memoir: life as an education
I finished Education by Lynn Barber last night and recommend it as an interesting revealing woman's memoir of her life as she sees it.

As I wrote, only the opening couple of chapters were taken for the movie story. The middle section takes us through her meeting with her husband as a young woman and reminds me strongly of the England I knew and lived in for a couple of years in the later 1960s. Along with inexpensive rents, fees for college, lots of jobs (if not spectacular ones, at least gettable), there was an open attitude towards sex, and couples were living together without marriage more and more. Casual atmosphere that has been lost. In this atmosphere and culture, Barber throve: she's aggressive and daring, and got a job with the key figures who owned and ran Penthouse, wrote a sexual manual that did very very well. She argues forcefully for openness about sex, and talks of how little so many people know in a repressed culture for real.

And then she and David marry; he gets a lesser paying job as a teacher, and they set up a home together.

She's not as candid in this section as the opening and close. One doesn't tell how one really gets a job and the internecine kinds of quarrels and struggles that occur. But more than this she doesn't admit openly (or admit quite) her style of writing was the revealing snarky kind that makes enemies while it sells copy. The time or era passes and Penthouse fails and people go on to other things. She gets into TV, film. I found this section interesting but typically superficial (enough is said though if you are a knowing or "in" person). Towards the end of her memoir, Clear Springs, Bobbie Ann Mason has a similar section about her time writing in magazines leading to "making" it as a novelist and short story writer.

The close then picks up again. Humanly she's not consistent: she stops and takes out time to have children, and is dependent emotionally on her husband, David. What happens is he gets sick and we have a long sequence of her and his attempts to fight his cancer and other conditions. It's powerful; she introduces it with the statement that her loss has defined her life so it's told from the perspective of now, afterwards. He died relatively young. The tone here returns to that of the opening part of the book, authentic I'd call it.

The title, "An Education" has the effect of presenting life itself as an education, so that Barber becomes our teacher, and I'd place this memoir in the tradition of women's books Ellen Moers in her Literary Women calls the "heroic teacher" governess -- her examples are Austen's kind of fiction (meant to be educational), Genlis, Isak Dinesen. Scheherazade apparently comes in here too. so let's add Azar Nafisi.


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