The last couple of weeks I've been despairing over my book project. I became deeply troubled that I had again embarked on something I couldn't do. Each time I have put down a book or article project (mostly my article projects turn into book projects), it's not been laziness or even lack of time. It's been I have come up against a barrier I can't leap over. This is even true of why I went no further with Anne Finch, Vittoria Colonna, and Veronica Gambara. In all cases I hadn't the money or ability to travel alone, had no connections and probably lacked the credentials and know-how to do the networking, library work and private archive looking, not to omit getting a place to live for a while. For Colonna I realized I couldn't stand the idiotic and pernicious religious readings I'd have to do. Again I came up against the same problem with Sophie Cottin: I just can't reach all the French sources I'd need, I felt even for an article. For Trollope's travel book I felt I needed to travel to Australia and New Zealand.
But this time I had seen nothing in my way, no obstacle beyond my (feeble) power. For a book on the Jane Austen Movies I could take down the scripts by stenography; I could get the stills by capturing them with the vlc viewer.
From a lovely montage late in the 1995 P&P, Jane and Elizabeth walking and talking together
It was a matter of using interlibrary loan, GMU resources on line, and buying what I needed on the Net, precisely what I did for Trollope on the Net, and all my work on Austen thus far. I went about it realistically and controlled myself. At no point have I written madly and have produced really readale good text, piece by piece, very slowly, controlled writing. I told myself in July I would write a chapter this summer that was not overlong and there I found my first hitch.
I am now on page 39 double-spaced pages, and have two and one-half mor movies to analyze and I know I must not go over 43 pages.
The chapter is overlong if I am to have nine chapters. My plan was: introduce and discuss the varieties of film adaptation and my perspective; 2, the S&S movies; 3, the P&P; 4, the MP ones; 5, Emma movies; 6, NA movies; 7, Persuasion ones, 8, Biopics, self-reflexive, composite, documentaries, oddities; 9, Coda and conclusion.
My second obstacle is how long it takes to analyze a movie for real. This is one helluva job. Here I am after 4 months and I've written up decently a section on Austen's S&S and then two and one-half movies. Now in this case I began with all the transcripts done and sheets of typed out summaries, commentaries and specific topics (Point of view) across all five. I have here and there something like this for say two of the P&P movies, one Emma, one MP, but nothing complete for each set. Gentle reader, there are right now by a modest count, 38, that's thirty-eight movies
I'll be dead before I finish and I so long to spend days reading books once again, following other trails, other projects.
But I have conquered this first DOUBTING period. I am seeing my way to a book on just the S&S and P&P movies.
These are not Austen's masterpiece finest books, but they are superb, and the movies made from them of great interest, particularly some of the free adaptations of P&P. It is this stunningly well-known and respected text.
An early moment of happiness for Elinor (Irene Richards) in the 1981 S&S: she sits with Edward talking of art at Norland Park, her sketch books nearby
I have devised a sort of contrast between the two sets of movies that can provide a grid or structure to take me across the two sets with a coherent development of contrast and comparison. The outline would now be to rely on parts.
Part 1: This stays the same: I will define and outline the types of adaptation.
Part 2: Seeking refuge: the S&S movies
Part 3: Divergent paths: the P&P movies
Part 4: Conclusion
For Part 2 something like 61 pages (what I now project my S&S chapter will be) is not overlong. It can be subdivided in modern chunks for th reader. P&P has twice as many movies so say Part 3 can be 120 pages and that subdivided. 30 pages before (part 1) and 15 after (part 4), brings us to 225 double spaced pages. Now that is about what I had for Trollope on the Net and it made a publishable book.
I am still not happy with myself. I haven't finished the Part as I'm now calling it and it's August 14th. I must begin my syllabus next Wednesday at the latest. I won't begin it before then. I have promised myself to write two proposals to try to go the JASNA at Portand, Me, in 1020 with a paper on Northanger Abbey (and maybe Radcliffe or Smith), and I've read about a conference on film in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has one panel to be dedicated to Jane Austen on film.
A Poussin I associate with Radcliffe: the mysterious woman in The Dirt Road
It'd be unlikely I (a nobody) would get a place, but I thought I'd try, for the conference is one I'd enjoy and learn from and Jim says we can go and he'll come with me. He may come with me to Portland, or Izzy may come. I've promised a short essay on translations of Austen for an online magazine and in September I must write that review on wm McCarthy's great (really fine and good) biography of Anna Barbauld. Teaching begins August 31st.
So I have less than a week left of freedom since I must begin my syllabus next week.
Have I used my time wisely this summer? I know I often didn't begin work on my project until 10 am or later (11), and maybe I didn't need to have gone over all the stuff I did again and again, but I felt I had to. I couldn't remember the films accurately enough. I am not doing impressionistic criticism and I am taking into account the filmic and other precursor texts for each film. This is why they take such time.
I've come much farther and closer than I've done in years -- since Trollope on the Net really. I have a long good piece and I can see my way to carrying on, and now I've cut down on the amount I will cover, I won't despair again.
I did ask on WWTTA how others came to Austen and told my own. I don't know if I did this on my original blog, Ellen and Jim have a blog, too. I think not. I wrote it on Austen-l (foolish Ellen). Well here is my brief concise account written this week, from the heart:
I first read S&S and P&P between ages 12 and 13, they were in a collection of high status older novels printed in sets in the 1930s by do-gooders. My father owned several such sets. I loved both immediately; I identified with both heroines, and saw a (pastoral) version of my parents in P&P (the realities I knew were much harsher) and wanted to be like Elinor, saw her as a role model and empathized very much. At 15 I read MP for the first time, and was gripped, and when I got to the end, went back to the first page and reread compulsively. I felt I was very like Fanny in what counted about her (I took couldn't go past doors where there were people considered of high rank or esteem); I loved its strength, austerity, beauty, most of all it seemed so strong.
I cannot remember when I read Persuasion and NA; it was before I was 21 because then in college I was assigned to read Emma and knew I had read the other two. I have a period where I can't remember much (ages 17-19), a partial blank, but I knew I loved Persuasion best at the time, and wanted to stand on Beechen Cliff and reject all Bath as being unworthy of picturesqueness; i.e., I longed to go, which I finally did in my 50s and also climbed that high high hill and looked down.
Emma, I was 21 and find the scene with Miss Bates so painful I didn't read it for a long time again.
When I was in my thirties, and living here in Alexandria (early 1980s), I read some of the juvenilia for the first time, specifically Love and Freindship. i found the texts just hilarious. I first heard of Lady Susan and the powerful unfinished The Watsons, and some of the others, Catherine, or the Bower, Sanditon, when I got onto Austen-l in 1995. I hurried up and read them, and then for the first time, the letters. They were something of a shock at first.
And since then so much criticism and many more biographies than Elizabeth Jenkins (which was the only one I had read up to 1995).
As I wrote on WWTTA, for many readers it would probably make an important difference in our attitudes towards Austen and towards the various interpretations and schools when we first read her. Younger serious readers (people who makes plans to read all of this kind of bok or that the way someone on WWTTA said she did when young) are deeply impressionable, and to read Austen young is to allow her to thread herself into the crevices of our development, to intertwine her texts with the very marrow of our oldest experiences and most long held thoughts and feelings so how can we not take her seriously and write about her the way many do.
Another reading session of The Jane Austen Book club; undeterred, they meet together, each with her or his copy, to discuss Jane at the hospital
And so another day of this summer comes to an end. It hasn't been bad. I've not missed teaching. I've enjoyed going out at night and have had pleasant experiences online for most of the summer. I've only been desperately unhappy late at night, mostly because of the isolation of living in Northern Virginia and the loneliness of life.