misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Dreaming the Austen movies: Lost in Austen (1)

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now where was I? ....

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

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

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

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

Lost in Austen:  The Harrowing of Amanda's Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: jane austen films

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