misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Lost in Austen: the harrowing of Amanda's dream (2)

Dear friends and readers,

Lest you assume (in case  you want to know, dear Diary) I've lost my thread on the Austen movies and my study of all this while on the gothic. Not so! I have been steadily making my way through Lost in Austen (2009)

Amanda reading before entering the book complacent about what's in it

After a few weeks in the book, harrowed, bewildered, turning to amused Wickham

It is a truth generally acknowledged that we are all longing to escape [P&P falls out of her bag, words start to roll across screen, moving pictures imitating previous films including 1979 BBC P&P and 1983 BBC S&S] ... I escape always to my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice (her voice becomes slightly heavy] I've reread it [pages now turn with words over dissolve] I've read it so many times now the word just say themslves in my head [warmer and warmer] [now the man emerges from frame, from the back, Colin Firth look alike when he's dressed in long coat, Elliot Cowan] and it's like a window opening [sweeping music, fuzzy camera]. It's like I'm actually there [now she's running by a temple, a scene very like one in 1983 BBC MP] it's become a place I know so intimately I can see  that world I can [she is running in dress like Jennifer Ehle's and men from terrace afar like Colonel Brandon in 1983 BBC S&S in a 1979 BBC P&P garden] see Mr Darcy .... whoof ...

And she shuts the book, snap.

Now where was I?  And music used in 1995 P&P starts and credits roll, cartoon.

I've listened to this opening countless times myself. I've begun my close study of this movie now and find there's a lot to learn about P&P in it too; it has a basic kind of honesty of good comedy.  This dream will go very sour for a time indeed:


I've come to realize that beyond satirizing the tropes of romance, the great house being one, and somewhere along the line literally explaining to the viewer why this enjoyment is so problematic, what Lost in Austen does is harrow Amanda out of her idealization of Austenland and its characters, so that she is driven to become submissive as a way to survive.  In this phase of the film, the modern woman is anathematized by Darcy but the traditional woman (Jane in the film) show to live a deprived frustrated life.

I also see individual scenes as invidious projections of our lives and/or womens' films (defined as films made for as well as by women) and their unfair bete noirs

First phase:  where we see how Amanda is driven to look for enchantment.

A character who is not identified beyond "vile mother" (I kid you not, go and look at the credits in IMDB) in Lost in Austen:  Kate-Lynn Hocking is given a speech where she makes explicit the pressure on women to compromise and marry to marry. It is part of the framing of Amanda's intense idealization of Austenland (I'll call it):

She emerges after Amanda's scene with a boyfriend who asks her to marry him by popping a ring off a soda can, takes over her place on the couch (when he'd not even been invited to stay), puts on a male program (sports) and proceeds to drink himself senseless. We last see him belching in his sleep.  Amanda is (alas) in her bathrobe now and we wonder if she gave in to have sex with this clown. Dissolve to

Mother sitting at kitchen table on kitchen chair in messed up room, all undone, walls scraped. She looks bedraggled, irritated, a woman of "d'un certain age," say near or past 50?

Mother: Well, he doesn't take drugs. He does not knock you about.
Amanda:  This place is a mess.
Mother: Yeah, it's called redecorating. It's what women my age do when they get divorced (takes cigarette). It's like sex except you can stop whenever you like for a cup of tea and a biscuit.
Amanda:  Give me a cigarette.
Mother:  No.
Amanda (has gin bottle anyway): You're telling me who it is I have to marry now, is that it?
Mother: I'm reminding you, Amanda, that are you what you are. If you waste your life ptetending to be something else you'll regret it.
Amanda look a little distressed at this, but then changes the subject to a narrower purview:  I don't trust him, Mom (soft tone)
Motehr:  Aw sweet pea. He had it off with a waitress.
Amanda:  Two nights running.
Mother:  He's a man. He has appetites.
Amanda: I have this conversation with Pirana on a regular basis and sh e never gets it. Ia m not hung up about Darcy. I do not sit at home with a pause button on Colin Firth with clingy pants, okay?
Mother stifles a laugh.
Amanda:  (soft music begins to reinforce her statement as true or meaningful to her)  I lvoe the slove story. I love Elizabeth. I love the manners and the language and the courtesy. It's become part of who I am, what I want. I am saying, mum, that I have standards.
Mother:  (tight look, nodding grated) Well you have standards pet. I hope they help you with your coat when you're 70. 

Quiet, focus on her and then Amanda.


They hit every button, from the reality that people (women) do read Austen as part of a class aspiration.  The insistence one must marry or be alone and that's terrible it seems. The stupidity of the minimal standard he won't beat you.  (Great.)  The snobbery (a waitress is not a woman).  Then the drive to make women accept men's sexuality as what they want to do because forsooth they have these appetites.  The view of Austen's world is false from the get-go even if the upper class talked more formally and in public kept to good manners -- they didn't always (see Evelina at the ball) -- but it is one popularly encouraged. And then too the mother married and we see how far that got her in old age.

We next Elizabeth as a mischievous sprite, taking advantage of Amanda's illusions and exchanging places with Amanda without Amanda's permission.

The label "vile" makes me think we are to reject the woman and is awful, and who conjured her up?  But its' a significant scene showing the illegitimate and oppressive norms in conflict with delusions -- neither of which the ensuing mini-series destroys. This is the way popular culture sees mothers.  In Austenland, Andrews has made Alex Fleming as Mrs Bennet worse than Davies's conception, much worse, with however Mr Bennet not permitted to be justified through his desire for retreat (as it's hopeless to do anything with this obtuse woman) but seen rather as wrongly retreating.  Lindsay Duncan will reprise her dragon lady (from Tom Jones too, drunkard in the 1999 Mansfield Park).

And yet all this is consonant (I suggest) with Austen's P&P -- and the writers know it. The vision of a mother and father here is repeatedly with more good nature in Bridget Jones's Diary; also the demand to marry whoever ... No Lady Catherine ... no Mr Collins either.

Typical early deflating moment:

Hugh Bonneville with panache and deprecating irony deflating the ga-ga worship elicited from audiences in heritage films.

He as Mr Bennet walking back from church turns to point out Netherfeld to the assembled women; I've accompanied it with a still of Amanda first setting eyes on it, and yes, falling for this, and Morvan Christie as the girl in the fiction longing for just such an establishment (improbable given the circumstances of the Bennets, but Austen's novels are wish-fulfillment machines). 
And a still of Mrs Bennet's usual rattling on worship with the others just as mesmerized.

Of course the unstated point is we don't get to live in these houses and what they cost to others who don't (like wars in their countries, low wages &c&c). 

There is a similar mocking moment in the 2005 P&P when the Gardiners and Elizabeth first see Pemberly; they fall back in exaggerated admiration; alas, the coda to that film totally buys into the glamor of such places.

A bit of the dialogue:

Mr Bennet: We have arrived Miss Price at a particularly fine prospect.
Amanda (her face lit up with this dream made reality):  Netherfeld Park.
Mr Bennet: According to disposition, one can marvel at the delicate masonry of the windows or thrill to the wealth of the tenant.
Mrs Bennet:  I learned in church from Mrs Lucas that chiefest among Mr Bingley's guest is Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy [Jane looks at Amanda who has mentioned this gentleman with such prophetic tones] of Pemberley.
Mr Bennet:  I have attended the disclosure with the reverence befitting all your utterances my dear. Now kindly explain it to me.
Mrs Bennet:  Darcy!  Pemberley!  oh 10,000
Mr Bennet: My joy accordingly is unconfined. Jane it appears you must now marry Mr Darcy instead of Mr Bingley.
Jane: It is not personally in my plans sir to marry either.
Mr Bennet: No, it is your mother's so choose your hymns ...

I think this little satire goes beyond the Austen films to all of this type even though I labelled it Austen subgroup.

Amanda's first experience of Darcy is like the dream that comes true but is not at all what you expect, it's closer to a nightmare.  Thus the first assembly dance (where in P& P Darcy snubs Elizabeth) has its equivalent in Lost in Austen.

Assembly Dance:  Amanda sees Darcy for the first time, naturally from the back

He turns round to look at her

Far from insulting Amanda in the place of Elizabeth, Darcy, albeit as apparently arrogant and formal as Austen's book would lead one to expect, participates in her suddenly voiced, irresistible "white lie" to Bingley:  to evade dancing with Bingley in order to make room for Jane (who does look attracted to Bingley), and because she knows she can't quadrille, Amanda has refused Bingley's invitation to dance by answering the "natural" question who are you promised to "the dog," with "Mr Darcy."

And so the magic moment happens. Comic: at first an older plump decidedly unheroic man turns (in a green suit too), but then the camera focuses on Darcy from the back (where he does most resemble Firth), teasing us in the way of movies, he turns and dialogue is effective, witty.  The writers have made the characters a bit more formal than they've been in a while, though not quite taking the words from Austen, while making Amanda more demotic than she might be.

Darcy:  "Yes" [he has reserved this dance]
Bingley: "What fresh lunacy is this, sir?  You've never lifted a hoof to dance in your life.
Darcy: "Until this evening I had not the nhonor of being acquainted with Miss Price.

She is chuffed (close-up)

Bingley:  "This is an event of some significance, Miss Price Quite unprecedented. Dacy regards all forms of sudden locomotion as emblematic of ill breeding, hunting, tennis, rising precipitately from a chair."
Darcy:  "When Miss Price and I  dance, sir, there shall be nothing sudden ..."
Amanda: "I can't dance this sort of dance ..."
Darcy:  "Nor I.  Together we shall make a shambles, but we shall do it with such authority that everyone will start at us to learn the step.

He puts his gloved hand out, "Madame."

A funny moment where she unloaded her glass of punch into Bingley and then puts her hand in his. Such awkward is not common in these elegant film adaptations.  But then

Amanda:  Unn umm.  Put her hand in his.

After disaster of Netherfeld Ball

Jane and Mr Bennet star-gazing in deep sadness

Despite all the critical talk (Susan Fraiman about the humliation of Elizabeth in P&P in her Unbecoming Womenis typical) about the humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet, the real humiliation in Austen's book is of Darcy. We all love reading the first proposal because we are intensely gratified when Elizabeth rejects this man with such little courtesy, compunction and then when he protests, let's him have it.  Every actor I've watched play the part flinches and more than once (even Laurence Olivier, the suave).  Firth seems to have been punched in the face.  When Elizabeth admits to herself she's been all wrong (and as Fraiman says it's too quick and not enough justice done to Wickham's presentation of the events which Darcy's letter partly shows to be accurate), she does in in front of herself, no one around. She does not come down from her prideful presentation of self at Pemberley, Darcy does. Darcy is soliciting the friendship of people who live in Cheapside, an attorney and his wife.  Yes Elizabeth is singed when Lydia runs off, but she holds her own fiercely against Lady Catherine, the one confrontation she must endure. The worst humiliation Elizabeth knows as experience is at that Netherfeld Ball and only she feels it -- all but her and Darcy are too dense or oblivious (Jane and Bingley).

Well in Lost in Austen there is an equivalent confrontation between Amanda and Darcy where he lets her have it full in the face, insult after insult - much of it on the surface merited: she does lie, she is absurd, she is without manners, she is a nag or disruptive and has inserted herself where she had no business.  Now the movie's ostensible story is to blow up her idyllic illusions about how much she would have loved living in Austenland.  She says to herself, this is the ball I so longed to be at, and so on.  But the scene is a long humiliation of her and not the first and will not be the last. it's no coincidence the authors of the movie are all men.

After the ball, and Jane's snubbing by Bingley under pressure from Darcy and Caroline, there is a scene which combines memories of Fanny and Edmund star-gazing in Austen's MP, the touching faithful depiction of this in the 1983 MP, the turn to solitude and turning away from the artificial world so Edmund and Fanny are actually outside in a portico looking out. Jane and her father with his arm around her after he has put his telescope down, her crying silently.

Comfort in one another

The next morning Mrs Bennet's plans reach fruition and the next thing we know we see Collins's and Jane's wedding, Charlotte vowing to be a missionary in Africa now, Mr Bennet's and Bingley's intense distress, and Amanda walks straight to Netherfield to find Darcy standing in front of a tall window (as pictured so often in the 95 P&P and here too):

Amanda (walks in talking):  "It is so frustrating."
Darcy by window. Arrogant look to whole face and body.

Amanda:  "You're better than this.  I know you are because I have had you in my head, Fitzwilliam Darcy since I was 12 years old so why are you behaving like such a total git.  Jane has no money, so what? Bingley's got stacks. What right do you have to trash their love because of an accident of birth?"
Darcy (sure tone):  "There is no accident in birth."
Amanda  "Do you know why I am so angry.?
Darcy: "You were born thus."
Amanda:  "I have been in love with your life for 14 years ... Ccut my heart out, Darcy. There is your name written on it with Elizabeth's. God almighty here you are one half of the greatest love story ever told and, you know what, you do not deserve her."

Darcy:  "Is this have you concluded? It is so difficult to tell."
Amanda:  "You're such a disappointment I can hardly bear to look at you."
Darcy:  "A deprivation I shall endure as stoically as I can."
Amanda:  "You're so relentlessly unpleasant I just cannot get at the real you."
Darcy:  "Madam (fierce) [?} Fitzwilliam Darcy I am what I am.  If you find yourself unable to get at an alternative version I must own to being glad. I despise the intrusions of a woman so singularly dedicated to mendacity, disorder, and lewdness.  They repel me.  You repel me. You are an abomination, Madam. Good afternoon to you. 

Voice over of Amanda as he walks out and she stands there:  "If I dream about you tonight I shall be really angry. I am going to dream about him. 
Then she speaks aloud:  "Still I hope in my dream you choke. Hateful man.

Black out chords.

The next phase appears to be a matching harrowing of Darcy in conventionally masculine terms. As Amanda is taught by submitting to men (including Wickham dressing her after Mrs Bennet throws her out, Mr Collins in his humble abode treating her as a stigmatized thing which she submits meekly to), so Darcy will be brought down by his love for Amanda which displaces him from his certainty about his position and self-control and strength.  After Amanda turns up at the Collins parsonage and is urged by Jane to stay with her, and then come to Rosings, Amanda encounters a Darcy who turns furious and enraged when he sees her at his aunt's.  She responds at first meekly and then as a competitive match:

The group is now sitting in classic Austen scene of the characters silently, most of them bored listening to a female character play: here, Caroline Miss Bingley an Italian art song. We see Jane sitting next to Bingley who carries on drinking hugely throughout the scenes once she is married with an insinuating Collins making creepy gestures on her other side.

Darcy sits down next to Amanda: "It is, as you are perfectly well aware, quite impossible for you to be here.
Amanda: "Painfully aware, sir.  Against my better judgement. I have come at the insistence of Mrs Collins [she begins to talk the elegant talk too]. If you could possibly find a way of persuading her to send me home, I'd be most obliged (puts up fan over face except eyes -- she does this throughout, per Wickham's instructions that she finds very useful). Don't they make a lovely couple (indicating Jane and Collins)

Bingley ever near her drinking, she looking distressed that he is doing this to himself
Darcy:  "It is not my fault Miss Bennet chose to marry Mr Collins. It was a decision freely made.
Amanda;  "Quite."
Darcy:  "It is a free society, Miss Price."
Amanda: "Absolutely" [we are seeing it's anything but]
Darcy:  "She was not constrained at the point of a dagger to take the imbecile Collins to her bed. Otherwise I behold a squalid prospect (camera on Bingley drinking) of grasping arrivistes, harlots and lions scrubbing over each other in the sewer that is existence outside society."
Amanda:  "The prospect is indeed frightful" (slightly deadpan but without insulting him) (changes subject) Mr Collins says that Lady Catherine's buttresses are the talk of the country." (insinuating sex)

Mischief teasing about buttresses; she watches to see his reaction
Darcy: "Buttresses!" (he hears insinuation)
Amanda: "Being a woman I know so little about architecture of course.  I think they form ...
Darcy: (Interrupting, exasperated)  "Yes I know about buttresses."

Caroline carrying on singing.  Voice-over of Amanda as he gets up suddenly and goes off: "First set, Miss Price. New balls, please."

And here is the turn, occurring at the time and place of Darcy's in P&P: he is at the parsonage and asks to see Amanda from Collins. She comes down the stairs very polite (as she has now become):

We hear male voice-overs; Mr Collins is saying something about he did not expect to be "distinguished" by such a "guest" (?) and as Amanda (who is hearing this appears), Darcy commands Collins peremptorily "go!"

Amanda; "You wish to speak to me, Sir"
Darcy:  (his nostrils quivering, his face working guarded look all the while):  "I am concerned ..."

Darcy unknowingly in love with Amanda
Amanda: "I do not understand ... "
Darcy:  "You came to this house knowing you'll be brought to Lady Catherine's knowing that I would be there, knowing full well the abysmal regard in which I hold you."
Amanda nods (barely)
Darcy;  Why when I am as you insist so relentlessly unpleasant to you do you persist in seeking me out?"
Amanda:  "But I didn't seek you out. You came to me."
Darcy turns very intensely and says to her:  "Why?"
Amanda:  "I don't know."
Darcy: "You may know. I do not and my lack of comprehension is tormenting.
Amanda; "Mrs Collins needs me (she curtsies). Good night."

He then comes over quickly and the camera captures them close up with him towering over her like a romance hero, reaching near to kiss her surely

Amanda:  "Are you quite sure this is what you want to do."

A few seconds and suddenly he grimaces and stalks off. We hear doors slamming.

Light on Jane in the room in her nightgown and shawl:  "He is in love with you."
Amanda:  (tears in her eyes, upset):  "No. He can't be.  That uh that doesn't make sense at all. That's crazy."

Jane looks fondly at and sorry for her.

Amanda: "Darcy.  Okay.  Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourne not Darcy and Amanda Price of WC6.

She cannot replace Elizabeth; it ruins the dream; she cannot understand it

Jane  "Lizzie did not come to my wedding. she has detached herself from the fortunes of this family. It is a thing that she has chosen. You must acknowledge this Miss Price and of your [?] own choosing.  I think you are a good person and you deserve happiness.

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


On the other hand, I've gone no further with Welch's Emma than my previous blogs.  Backstory to the front: Mr Knightley narrates/dreams; Jane Austen's perception of Christmas: novels and films.

One of the pleasures of the 2008 Emma movie was it was not pastels but rich dark colors and filled with real emotions but that's all I've got to as of now.

More on Lost in Austen soon and eventually a lot more on Welch's Emma 2009. 

Tags: adaptations, costume drama, female archetypes, film adaptation, jane austen films, women's art, women's films

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