Monday, March 12, 2007

Whimpering Heights

"I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world..." said American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1861. But hey, what did he know?

Jane Austen had already been dead for 44 years when Emerson took it upon himself to slate her. If he was fed up of her back then (and he was by no means the only detractor), imagine how he'd feel at the knowledge that nearly two hundred years after her death, she's as popular as ever. Perhaps more so.

So just how have her six stories from the early 19th century continued to find an audience? And why aren't we bored of Jane Austen yet?

Handsome, privileged and/or emotionally stunted men; beautiful, witty and/or neurotic women; the middle and upper classes at play; a materially-obsessed world; the underlying rituals of the mating dance; husband-hunting mothers, daughters and friends; love, romance…I could just as easily be outlining an average episode of Sex & The City. And therein lies Austin's chief appeal; she has transcended time. The day we become bored of Jane Austen is the day we become bored of human foibles, frailties and the frustration of relationships, both familial and romantic.

As such, I raced to see Becoming Jane at the weekend. And while the film is beuatifully shot and delivers a potentially devastating emotional crescendo it failed to break my heart. Rather, I emitted a faint whimper that a writer of Austen's calibre would have found most disagreeable.

Watch the trailer here.

Read Germaine Greer on Jane Austen in today's Guardian here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Becoming Jane too CS, for I am a James McAvoy fan and am still upset that he didn't get an Oscar nod for Narnia. I was prepared for liberties, but was I got was fiction and Anne Hathaway with a bad accent. James McAvoy was, indeed, very good, though, and the dances they were doing were to the right music, just not to the right time signature. There were some sterling performances, such as the man who plays Wisby, who was understated but burst onto the screen in full in the last few minutes.

All in all not worth it, wait for DVD!

5:58 pm  
Anonymous hb13 said...

But the distributor of Becoming Jane can count itself unlucky that it encountered this phenomenon in early March. The period romantic dramedy was just the kind of picture that could have expected decent houses on Sunday afternoon (which can be a strong slot for prestige, older-skewing titles), but a Saturday-to-Sunday decline of 46% confirms that this did not occur. Overall, Becoming Jane managed £649,000 for the weekend, which compares with Pride & Prejudice’s opening of £2.53million. Of course, a film about Jane Austen was never going to match a glossy big-screen adaptation of her best-loved novel.

6:00 pm  
Anonymous Claire said...


An accomplished ingenue in The Devil Wears Prada, Hathaway doesn't know how much charm to unleash. Trying to be deep and sweet, her Austen often comes across like a pompous little goose.

McAvoy and the rest of the cast have an easier time, and are easier to watch. Which leaves us where?

I agree CS.

6:02 pm  
Anonymous Ella said...

I saw Becoming Jane tonight and really enjoyed it. I'm not sure how historically accurate it is... and not sure I care either way. I noticed some interesting costume choices and look forward to studying to see how period they are. One in particular from a scene during a cricket match is something I have never seen before. Anyhoo... I definitely recommend seeing the movie.

6:02 pm  
Anonymous Gail said...

- I loathe P&P 2005 with all the burning passion of firey hell and much bashing - I secretly quite like Anne Hathaway (ssh).
- My expectations were so low that it couldn't possibly have been worse than I was expecting.

6:04 pm  
Anonymous Anna said...

I though the film was fabulous. Acting was supurb and everything fell into place perfectly.

Would definitely recommedn it to anyone, male or female.

Yes would say Austen IS the original adn best source of chick lit.

6:15 pm  
Anonymous hels said...

I beg your pardon CS?

I loved it absolutely all of it and so did most critics.

Anne is American which is maybe why you werent convinced of her but that is a shallow interpretation as she did her best in my view.

6:19 pm  
Anonymous Jamie said...

What is it with Hollywood that they cant cast people that are appropriate for roles and instead they try and make people be something they are not?!

Surely Kate Winslet would have been better cast and got around the accent/cultural issues of having a Yank play this heroine?

6:20 pm  
Anonymous hello and bye said...

Great post. Well written.

Love the title. C U!

6:23 pm  
Anonymous power female said...

I'm not a frilly girl. I don't like dresses or pretty things. I fantasize about setting fires more than men. I enjoy learning about hoaxes and scams much more than learning about manners and correct speech. I find no interest in romance, because I'm too busy accruing interest in finance. I enjoy my life as a woman who can do whatever she wants in this world. Why, then, do I like Jane Austen's novels?

I believe that the appeal of her work to me is the incredible wittiness of her women. I try to be funny, but fail most of the time. I find the notion of wonderfully witty women in a society where politeness is crucial so pleasing that I have read many of her novels more than once.

6:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the reason that romance novels are so popular among women is that they are an escape from the ho hum life of chores and often a non romantic husband, or more commonly no man at all who can be relied on to sweep them off their feet and care for them. They are the female equivalent to “X Men”, these romances have little or nothing to do with the everyday life. We don’t fly off to Paris to shop, we don’t have three hours to spend talking with friends at long lunches, and (in the more modern novels) we don’t run multinational corporations while we are still under age 30.

6:31 pm  
Anonymous Deidra said...

CS - There is a quiet subtlety of Ms. Austen that we can identify with. The dirty little secret is that for most women, marriage and family is still the center of their lives. Despite societal elites telling us we are supposed to be “liberated”, in our hearts most of us know that if one fails to get a decent human being as a husband and father for our children, our lives will be full of sorrow.

6:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all know the Mariennes who love rogues who desert them, and the Elinores who love a man in other commitments but who have enough integrity not to insist he destroy that commitment.

6:33 pm  
Anonymous southern belle said...

Paris Hilton may be in the headlines, but even Paris, one prays, will grow up and find stability in the type of loving relationship that make the world go round.

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Steve said...

I always watch Jane Austen adaptations for the very nice filming of Bath.....

6:34 pm  
Anonymous RichJohnston said...

Wife just confessed last night that she fancies Ed Byrne like mad. Why don't they use him?

6:34 pm  
Anonymous Dan Farming said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:35 pm  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Sorry Steve, this one is definitely for the ladies. Go and bitch about Top Gear or something.

Colin Firth. Wet Breeches. Boots. Big horse. Oh hell, I'm not getting any work done for the rest of the day.

6:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.

Maybe I've not been paying close enough attention, but a certain Mr Shakespeare isn't slated for his works as much as Austen. And it's not as if his ideas were entirely original, either.
I can't help feeling that because Austen wrote about relatively fluffy things like love, her writing is seen as lacking in artistic value.
I think it's a testament to her work that it still resonates 200 years down the line, and can be translated into virtually any setting - as with Shakespeare. That's a power most authors would give their writing hand for!

6:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off topic here, but re Ed Byrne: has anyone else ever seen him in the same room as Davina McCall? I'm just sayin'... :-P

6:49 pm  
Anonymous kendra said...

Love your writing City Slicker!

Was going to see this film but think will give it a miss now.

I hate whimpering :-)

8:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm.... for those in a more serious mood as we approach the 4th anniversary of The War, New Yorkers can join in a living, human peace sign at Washington Square park Friday at 6:30 pm
can you cover this slick?

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