Sunday, April 10, 2011
Many of the themes seen throughout Austen’s works come together in Persuasion, the last novel published before her death in 1817. Parenting and social boundaries have been two of the major themes discussed in previous blog posts and throughout this semester in class, both of which are evident in Austen’s final novel. Sir Walter is not only indifferent towards Anne but genuinely uncaring, setting him apart from Emma’s humorously aloof Mr. Woodhouse. Lady Russell serves as Anne’s mother figure of the novel, counseling her on marriage opportunities, attending social events with her, and serving as her general confidant. Like the characters of many Austen novels, social etiquette takes absolute precedent for Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot who value appearances of wealth and material richness despite the family’s failing finances. In Persuasion, parental influence and social etiquette play a major role in the life of protagonist Anne Elliot who finds herself persuaded out of a marriage to Captain Wentworth as a young nineteen year old girl by Lady Russell who disapproves of his poverty. As the novel progresses, it is clear that both Anne and Captain Wentworth have harbored feelings for each other in the eight and a half years they were separated and are eventually united again.
One of the major questions that arise in Persuasion is whether persuasion has the ability to overcome passion. Out of the many Austen’s novels, this is perhaps the one where the passion and true emotions of the two lovers can truly be felt by the reader. Austen spends pages and pages describing Anne’s responses to seeing Captain Wentworth again, responses that are rather passionate compared what we see in Austen’s other novels. Thinking of Captain Wentworth, Anne’s “happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed, - but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half hour” (Austen 150). When Anne is the in the same room as him at the end of the novel when Captain Wentworth is unknowingly professing his love to her in a letter, Anne “tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course” (Austen 178). Upon reading Captain Wentworth’s letter Anne she felt an “overpowering happiness” (Austen 191). Austen makes it obvious that when Anne is around Captain Wentworth she is flustered, happy, and just generally exhibiting typical signs of being in love.
Despite this renewed passion for Captain Wentworth, it is evident that passion has not always been above the powers of persuasion. When Anne learns the truth about her cousin Mr. Elliot from her friend Mrs. Smith, she “could just acknowledge within herself such a possibility of having been induced to marry him…It was just possible that she might have been persuaded by Lady Russell!” (170). And of course, the reader knows that Anne was persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth eight years previously when he was only a poor sailor with no distinctive social rank. When Anne is discussing “constancy” with Captain Harville she claims that women have a stronger constancy in love: “We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us” (Austen 187). This is certainly interesting, for despite these claims, she was still persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth. While it’s obvious that she never fell out of the love with him, she was still persuaded out of the original marriage. It seems as though parental influence and social etiquette were enough to convince Anne not to marry someone she clearly cared greatly for. Do you view this as problematic? What statement does this make about the larger historical picture? Does persuasion trump passion in this novel, or is all righted because Anne eventually marries the man she loves? How important in the role of parents and the social beliefs of the time in the determination of one’s future? At the end of the novel, Anne states that “I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided…I was right in submitting to her” (Austen 198). Was she right in submitting to Lady Russell? Although she does marry Captain Wentworth in the end, there is doubt throughout much of the novel that this will in fact happen. With “persuasion” as the title of this novel, one must ask: does persuasion have the power to overcome passion?
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Persuasion is a story so focused on time. It is in this novel that Austen dates the events of the story. She sets it in the summer of 1814 and recalls events that took place in 1806. As mentioned in class, the choice by Austen to set the novel at this time was a conscious one. She wanted to set it at the time of the “false peace”. The historical events that would follow the novel would undoubtedly affect the characters. But still the past comes charge back into the lives of the characters
The impact of the past is felt the most by Anne in the story. She feels it with the return of Captain Frederick. He returns from both a life in the navy and the events of Anne’s past. He brings with him all the feelings that Anne felt for him. At times, it becomes too much for her to handle. In particular, she will interact with him and she becomes physically unaware of it. This occurs when he removes young Walter from her shoulders. The narrator describes “before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it. Her sensations on this discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him.” (69). He crosses over into her presence and she is left without the knowledge of what to do next.
The same can be said for the overall experience of him returning into her life. Will she go back to the great love of her past or continue to soldier on in misery? It comes down to the title of the novel, persuasion. Eight years earlier, she was persuaded by Lady Russell not to accept Wentworth’s hand in marriage. Wentworth proves his undying devotion to Anne through a letter and persuades her to marry him. Overall she is persuaded to welcome the past back into her life.
Once she is though, she must deal with the impending future. The novel closes with this sentiment “the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine” (203). If the novel were to continue on, it may see Wentworth leave Anne to go fight in war.
Examine whether the past has a greater impact on or the future has the greater potential to impact Anne. Overall judge whether events that occurred previous to a novel or hypothetical events to follow matter more to the development of a character such as Anne. Is she more aware of her past or her future in the novel?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Adrian Shergold’s 2007 version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion features Sally Hawkins in the role of Anne Elliot and Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth. Though the film strays several times from the novel’s plot line, these minor discrepancies accompany the territory of film adaptation and the movie as a whole remains faithful to Austen’s work. Persuasion most noticeably focuses on Anne Elliot’s sense of isolation as an outlier in her family, and on a larger scale, society in terms of her age and lack of marital status. From the instant we are introduced to Ms. Elliot (the very first opening scenes of the film), she is separate from her father and sister, taking charge of the house’s affairs. Dressed in frumpy clothing that does not seem to mirror her family’s high social status, she clearly juxtaposes the rest of her family as Sir Walter and Elizabeth are donning refined and luxurious-looking clothing. Anne’s struggles in dealing with her past and the reappearance of Captain Wentworth are portrayed through unique camerawork and narration by journaling. Her constant eye contact with the camera is reminiscent of Fanny Price’s character from the film adaptation of Mansfield Park. Anne breaks the fourth wall, engaging in direct, figurative “conversation” with the viewer. These moments are significant because they function as the narrative voice we encounter throughout the novel, lending insight into Anne’s pain and internal turmoil. In addition to the common occurrence of journaling, Shergold’s camerawork is an intriguing and crucial component to the film. Close-ups are frequent, invading the space of the characters and bringing the viewers directly into contact with them as a means to further emotional connection and understanding. Besides close-ups, the camera often follows Anne, lending the audience a better view on the literal isolation she experiences, generally when walking with her family and others. When Anne, Charles, and Elizabeth encounter Wentworth in the woods after arguing whose affections he is after, the camera quickly switches to the Captain’s point of view and then returns to Anne’s. As discussed in class, Anne’s moments of interaction with Wentworth often omit the present, as she loses self-possession and can only function in the past and future of those fleeting occurrences. Incredibly difficult to capture this on camera, Shergold instead portrays Anne’s struggles through the mise en scene. Immediately after Wentworth places Anne in the back of the Crofts’ carriage, the camera pans back to capture her riding alone in the back while Mr. and Mrs. Croft discuss the inevitability of the Captain marrying either Henrietta or Louisa. Though some may think of the camerawork as awkward and distracting, Shergold’s employment of certain angles and shots serve to further the artistry of the film and highlight Austen’s craft.
Accurate portrayals of Persuasion’s characters through the perfect selection of actors and costuming also participate in the creation of an enjoyable adaptation of Austen’s novel. Anthony Head, playing Sir Walter, epitomizes his character’s despicability and vanity. Constant references to appearance, admiration of himself, and his treatment of Anne all work to further contempt and disdain for Sir Walter from the audience. Mary’s absurd and annoying character is nailed by Amanda Hale, who is clearly her father’s daughter, eager and willing to leave her injured child in the hands of Anne in order to dine with the Crofts. Though Mr. Elliot did not appear as I had envisioned him (he was slightly too akin to a young version of Abraham Lincoln for me), he captured the charming yet deceitful nature of his character. I was slightly disappointed that Mrs. Clay’s “unfortunate” looks were not mentioned by Sir Walter, as her freckles and tooth had the potential to offer comedic value. Unlike many of the other films depicting Austen’s works that we have watched, this version of Persuasion does not incorporate the bits of humor and wit that are generally inherent to her books and rather takes a more somber and dark route. Finally, I was thoroughly impressed with the characterization of the Crofts, as they were likeable characters whose love and affection for each other illustrates, as mentioned in class, their potential to be classified as one of the only truly genuine couples from Austen’s novels. Overall, despite several minor differences and changes to Persuasion’s plot, this TV movie is a viable adaptation, as demonstrated through its focus on Anne’s isolation, camerawork and narration, and actor selection.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The 1996 made-for-television version of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale as the title character and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly, was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. I found this version to be similar to the 1996 one in its traditional interpretation of the novel. Many of the scenes were nearly identical to the original plot- from Emma’s walk through the field, to the happening upon Mr. Churchill in the woods, to the actual script.
The Beckinsale version of Emma is much less glamorous than the other film adaptions; it focuses not only upon Emma’s high society lifestyle, but also upon the direct and indirect interactions with the poor. The adaption also has newly devised scenes, making it an artistic interpretation of the original, and differentiating it from the previously made version. An aspect unique to this version is Emma’s matchmaking, much of which is interpreted through imaginative dreams that she has. These scenes appropriately stay in line with Emma’s bold imagination and her faith in herself to match people together. While some are outright strange, each offers a personal insight as seen directly through Emma’s daydreaming.
Beckinsale’s characterization of Emma is not immediately dislikable. Her imperviousness and boldness are akin to Austen’s original Emma, without being too obnoxious for the majority of the film. The sense of charm Beckinsale instills in her Emma makes her slightly more likeable than in different adaptions, however, it does not redeem her so much as to make her stray too far from her true characterization. Beckinsale’s chemistry with Strong’s Knightley is believable; the two work well together in creating the complicated relationship that exists between the two. The film itself is captured in muted, calm tones, which matches the acting. Furthermore, the emphasis on music is an integral aspect of the film, as evidenced in the numerous dance scenes, the pianoforte scene, and throughout the travel scenes. While not as popular as the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow adaption, the Kate Beckinsale version offers many unique insights into the characters and story of Emma.
The most recent adaptation of the novel Emma comes courtesy of BBC with its successful 2009 miniseries, starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Unlike some of the other modern versions of Emma, the time constraints for this version were not as strict because it was filmed and shown as a miniseries, not a two hour movie, allowing for a faithful and relatively complete adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel.
One aspect of this adaptation that sets it apart from other versions is the way the writers and directors present scenes that are told in the novel through a narrative voice or through dialogue between characters. Because of the freedom that comes with shooting a miniseries as opposed to a regular movie, the filmmakers have the opportunity to draw out every scene instead of just allowing character dialogue to tell a story. The audience can fully see what is happening in addition to just hearing it described. An example of this, from the very beginning of the first episode, is when Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax are shown as children and their family situations are made known to the audience right away. The narrator discusses what happened with each of them in their childhood, while the audience can also see Emma with her governess, Miss Taylor, following her mother’s death and Frank Churchill leaving his father, Mr. Weston, to live with his aunt and uncle. This scene serves as a good set-up for the rest of the story and helps eliminate any confusion that the audience may have about each character’s relationship to each other.
Another favorable aspect of this adaptation of Emma is the fact that certain characters, specifically Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton, are given more screen time than in some of the other films. While they are not the most important characters in the book, Michael Gambon and Christina Cole, give great performances, showing audiences the overly cautious Mr. Woodhouse and the incredibly self-centered and annoying Mrs. Elton as Austen portrays them in the novel.
However, without a doubt, one of the greatest parts of the miniseries is the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, thanks to Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. Their relationship is faithful to that within the novel, and although Garai was actually 27, not 21, during the filming, it is still believable that her Emma is 16 years younger than Jonny Lee Miller’s Knightley. Miller, being the correct age of 37, plays the protector of Emma, being concerned about her but never overbearing or controlling. In contrast, Emma is played as very young and naïve, not quite as stubborn as readers of the novel sometimes see her. Despite their different personalities, their union does not seem forced and serves as a welcome and happy ending to the miniseries.