Friday, July 28, 2017

Playing the Touist: Lyme Regis

There are places you see pictures of and think, there, I want to go to there. That is how it is with me and Lyme Regis. The water crashing against the Cobb is, to me, what it should be like when you visit the coast. Yes, much can be said about a nice beach, but unless you have some wind and great crashing waves, well, do you really feel the power of the ocean? Lyme Regis is made all the more desirable as a travel destination by it's literary connections. John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman as well as Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures about fossil hunter Mary Anning are set there. But of course it's the connection to Jane Austen and Persuasion that make it a sacred site to me. When the company from Uppercross sets out for Lyme Regis little do they know how it will change all their fates. This is where Anne's bloom begins to return. This is where she first sets eyes on her cousin Mr. Elliot. While much sorrow is attached to this trip because of Louisa's fall, this is the place where Captain Wentworth starts to realize that Anne still has a hold on his heart and that Louisa's accident might forever destroy his chances of regaining Anne's hand. Lyme Regis is the linchpin of their happily ever after and therefore should not be missed by the true Janeite.

But what is really interesting about Lyme Regis is that unlike other Austen travel sites this one would be approved of by Jane herself! While Bath is a must, Jane hated Bath. And other locations where often just visited in her mind, but Lyme Regis? Jane visited Lyme Regis at least twice, once in 1803 and again the next summer in 1804. By the way she describes Lyme Regis in Persuasion you can feel her love for the place coming through. Her esteem is pouring off the page: the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger's eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better... these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood. Thankfully Lyme Regis has not shied away from their Austen connection and their Literary Lyme Walking Tours are now officially Jane Austen Tours! They operate several types of Jane Austen Tours, from short tours to day tours, from Lyme Regis all the way to Bath and any other city by arrangement. But as this post is about Lyme Regis, perhaps I'd start there, standing on the Cobb.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TV Movie Review - Persuasion

Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: April 1st, 2007
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head, Julia Davis, Michael Fenton Stevens, Mary Stockley, Peter Wight, Marion Bailey, Amanda Hale, Sam Hazeldine, Jennifer Higham, Rosamund Stephen, Stella Gonet, Nicholas Farrell, Louis Shergold, Rupert Penry-Jones, Joseph Mawle, Finlay Robertson, Tobias Menzies, Maisie Dimbleby, Sarah Buckland, and Tilly Tremayne
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

All is chaos at Kellynch Hall. Anne Elliot, the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot and the younger sister of Elizabeth Elliot has tried all she could to get her family to retrench but the time has come to face reality. As her father and sister stuff their faces with delicacies the decision has been made to lease the house and move the family to Bath. The father of Elizabeth's dear friend Mrs. Clay has found a naval man without children to take the house. A perfect fit, as his wife has nothing to do but make sure the house is preserved. Though upon hearing that their name is Croft Anne is beset by emotions she thought long gone. Eight years previously she was engaged to Mrs. Croft's brother, Fredrick Wentworth. The engagement was broken as it was viewed he didn't have any prospects. He is now a wealthy captain and is coming back into Anne's life looking for a wife. Anne has no hope that she might regain his heart, instead tucked away with her younger sister Mary at Uppercross she sees Fredrick set his cap at Mary's sisters-in-law, Louise and Henrietta Musgrove. Anne is aflutter and constantly aware of his presence. He is kind, but he is no longer hers and it aches so painfully. When the party from Uppercross takes a trip to Lyme Regis the expected course of all their lives is upended. Louisa has a fall and Captain Wentworth's friends must nurse her back to health while Anne is sent off to Bath to rejoin her family. Soon Captain Wentworth comes to Bath and Anne can't help hoping that perhaps things have changed. Perhaps she can hope again. She has somehow attracted the attention of her cousin and her father's heir, Mr. Elliot, and could this jealousy spark Captain Wentworth into making his feelings known? Or will Fredrick lose the love of his life because he embraced the opposite of all that he initially regretted in Anne's behavior all those years earlier?

ITV's Jane Austen season of 2007 did a lot to rectify issues I had in previous Austen adaptations. Consisting of Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, while Northanger Abbey easily won the day, Persuasion wasn't that far behind. What this adaptation did while not being 100% faithful to the book was to give us an intimate, introspective, and artistic adaptation that emotionally connects you to Anne Elliot. This adaptation favored music that pulled on your heartstrings instead of attempting to jam all the book's dialogue into a ninety minute movie. This allows the quiet to fill the space, to let you dwell as Anne has dwelled on the loss of Wentworth all those years ago. You can actually feel a void opening up inside you as Anne's pain becomes your own. In this adaptation Anne is always the touchstone for the audience. She is front and center, it is her POV that we take as our own. The camera work reinforces this with her always on screen while other characters are off screen, their dialogue sometimes buried in the background, not fully heard, because as Anne is our conduit we only observe what she does and a human can only see and hear so much, they're not omniscient. Yet it takes awhile for the viewer to get at what the director is trying to do. For the first few minutes all you can think of is how jittery the handheld camera work is and how close the closeups are. But then you start to realize that the agitation in the camera work reflects Anne's state of mind, and while yes, it's jittery, you realize that it also makes what would be a static image on a television screen alive. The camera and Anne have a symbiotic relationship, with the modern technology being there to reflect Anne's emotions. This can be seen when Anne looks directly into the camera. It's not gimmicky like in Mansfield Park with a wry and arched brow that makes you want to slap Frances O'Conner or just too much like in The House of Mirth where you're counting Eric Stoltz's pores, here it lays bare Anne's soul thanks to Sally Hawkins's portrayal. Sally Hawkins is such an amazing actress that the smallest facial gesture, the intimation of a tear conveys so much. So while this adaptation doesn't go for strict accuracy the feeling is correct and that can cover a plethora of sins.

Yet sometimes the lack of faithfulness results in absurdities. The main absurdity of this adaptation is Anne and the running of Bath. As in, she seriously runs all over Bath after Captain Wentworth. First she runs after him when he suddenly leaves a concert and accosts him in the entryway. Secondly she runs after him when he leaves the Elliot's residence after he was inquiring after Kellynch Hall for his sister. This then starts the main running sequence that rivals Frank Potente's race through Berlin in Run Lola Run. She runs outside and is directed to the Croft's residence where she runs into Captain Harville who gives her Wentworth's letter and sends her to the Pump Room, where the Croft's say she's just missed him, and at this point when she starts running again, you might be laughing a little, because seriously, all the running! Yes, a panting Anne finally runs into Wentworth and all is well. But seriously, ALL THAT RUNNING THOUGH! Even Anne's poor friend Mrs. Smith had to run to tell Anne the truth about Mr. Elliot and his schemes. Yes, Mrs. Smith, who in the book can't even walk due to her horrid health joins Anne on a leg of her epic race. From the Elliot residence to the Croft residence running along the Royal Crescent actually away from the main part of town and everyone's residences for those who know Bath and who know where everyone in the book lives, poor Mrs. Smith is panting out her story. She's trying to break through to a distracted Anne about Mr. Elliot and yet, all I could think of was, seriously, stop running for five seconds and hear her out! But what bothered me more than just the absurdity of this situation was that this shows a total lack of propriety. A woman in this time period would NEVER have done this. And yes, I know that by showing Anne breaking with convention it shows how her love for Captain Wentworth overrides all other concerns. But still! This is Anne Elliot! It's a total break in her character. If I wasn't so emotionally invested by this point I would have totally written off the adaptation for this need for speed. But as it is, I was there for every single second of her run panting with fervent hope that she wouldn't be too late.

Of course the observant reader will notice that this running was all necessitated by the moving of some important dialogue to an earlier part of the book. Anne's speech about women loving longest after all hope is gone is originally said to Captain Harville and overhead by Captain Wentworth, leading to him writing his soul piercing confession which reunites them near the end of the book. Instead Anne's speech is entrusted to Benwick when they are all seated at the Harville's home in Lyme Regis. In between talking about poetry and prose she decides to drop her big speech as a confidence to Benwick while Wentworth is way on the other side of the room being quite boisterous and therefore he doesn't hear it. This of course then forces the narrative to find some other contrivance for Wentworth to hope and write that letter to Anne. Here it's Wentworth coming to the Elliot's residence in Bath and asking if his sister and brother-in-law should give up the lease on Kellynch because news has reached them that Mr. Elliot and Anne are to live there once they are married. Anne of course refutes this instantly and then is interrupted by Lady Russell and the running begins. This asking after Kellynch is just too forced. Too direct. Anne and Wentworth are both stumbling in the dark unable to realize that the other is still in love with them and this just seems too active. The way Austen wrote it is sweet. It dawns on Wentworth how wrong he was and thus lays his heart bare in the only way he has at his disposal, a letter. How else is he to hope unless he overhears Anne's speech? Asking after a lease on a house, that's not romantic, it's pragmatic. Plus he goes home, then writes the letter, then has to be hunted down. It's just too much work. There's also the fact that we know how they both feel so this seems to be done just to draw out the suspense a little longer. You can't have perfect happiness without a little hurdle, and apparently the previous eight years wasn't enough for this adaptation.

But any faults can be forgiven, even the odd detail of Captain Wentworth apparently buying Kellynch Hall, by the superb cast. You couldn't hope for a better cast. Of course the casting that made me giddy was that of Anthony Stewart Head as Sir Walter Elliot. Buffy fan that I am seeing "Giles" relish playing this vain and pompous man was a dream come true. Seriously, just cast him in almost anything and I'll watch. I say almost because there's no way anyone's getting me to watch that Shondaland show Still Star-Crossed. As for the rest of the cast, yes, it's a little weird seeing The Borg as Lady Russell, but she's a far less domineering Lady Russell than other versions, and I appreciate that. But I'm not going to sit here and just list why I love every actor, and seriously, I love every single actor in this all the way down to Cully's husband from Midsomer Murders, when there are two that need to be talked of, Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Sally Hawkins has been the darling of independent British cinema for years, especially working with Mike Leigh, even winning a plethora of awards for their collaboration Happy-Go-Lucky. But it's her more miniseries roots that brought her to my attention first in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, and later in The Young Visiters, Byron, and the Sarah Waters adaptations of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. Yet it's in Persuasion that you can see how she can inhabit a role so completely that dialogue isn't even needed to convey what she is feeling. As for Rupert Penry-Jones, well I might have written him off as a pretty boy with The Prince of Hearts, Cambridge Spies, Casanova, and his basically replacing Matthew Macfadyen on Spooks, but then I watched Whitechapel. Holy hell, that show is amazing and his portrayal of a driven yet completely OCD DI makes it one of my favorite shows ever. Persuasion mined the best of British drama and has a stellar cast that makes you shake your head in amazement that all these people are in one place at one time.

Though I feel that this review would be incomplete without me taking a shot at PBS. Oh PBS, I have so many issues with you. Seriously, SO MANY. Substandard releases could be brought up here, but instead I'm going to take you to task for your editing. Seriously!?! Stop it! Thankfully you've basically stopped editing the DVD releases because of the fan outcry for which I really have to thank Downton Abbey. But I'm still waiting for my Sally Lockhart mysteries with the sex scene back in... Instead I'm going to bitch about your broadcast editing. I watched this adaptation of Persuasion when it first aired in England, then when it finally aired the following January on PBS I was excited to watch it again but found it lacking. As in lacking all scenes with Captain Wentworth and Captain Harville talking to each other in and around Lyme Regis. I actually had to turn it off I was so enraged. Here's the thing about movies, television shows, any kind of visual broadcast: it's the vision of a person or group of persons that go to the trouble to make this beautiful show. That vision should NEVER been lessened, censored, or randomly changed not for "objectionable" reasons but to make more time for your sponsors! PBS made a pledge to bring quality television to America and more and more it's about the appearance of doing so without actually doing it. Even since Exxon left Masterpiece no longer theater has been in a steep decline and it's come to the point where I no longer even watch the channel. I can't abide editing, and as for speeding up the frame rate, which you totally did during season one of Poldark, it actually makes me physically sick. Also, why can't you air shows at the same time as England? I mean, you've fixed it with Sherlock so what gives!?! Yes, I know, I shouldn't end a review that is glowingly in favor of a production with a negative, but do you ever get the feeling that PBS isn't really involved in these shows at all and is just taking credit for what the BBC and ITV are doing?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Egypt, 1912—Amelia Peabody and her dashing archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, are once again in danger as they search for a priceless, stolen bust of legendary Queen Nefertiti and Amelia finds herself the target of assassins in this long-awaited, eagerly anticipated final installment of Elizabeth Peters’ bestselling, beloved mystery series.

Arriving in Cairo for another thrilling excavation season, Amelia is relaxing in a well-earned bubble bath in her elegant hotel suite in Cairo, when a man with knife protruding from his back staggers into the bath chamber and utters a single word—"Murder"—before collapsing on the tiled floor, dead. Among the few possessions he carried was a sheet of paper with Amelia’s name and room number, and a curious piece of pasteboard the size of a calling card bearing one word: "Judas." Most peculiarly, the stranger was wearing a gold-rimmed monocle in his left eye.

It quickly becomes apparent that someone saved Amelia from a would-be assassin—someone who is keeping a careful eye on the intrepid Englishwoman. Discovering a terse note clearly meant for Emerson—Where were you?"—pushed under their door, there can be only one answer: the brilliant master of disguise, Sethos.

But neither assassins nor the Genius of Crime will deter Amelia as she and Emerson head to the excavation site at Amarna, where they will witness the discovery of one of the most precious Egyptian artifacts: the iconic Nefertiti bust. In 1345 B.C. the sculptor Thutmose crafted the piece in tribute to the great beauty of this queen who was also the chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother to King Tutankhamun.

For Amelia, this excavation season will prove to be unforgettable. Throughout her journey, a parade of men in monocles will die under suspicious circumstances, fascinating new relics will be unearthed, a diabolical mystery will be solved, and a brilliant criminal will offer his final challenge . . . and perhaps be unmasked at last."

I thought we had seen the last of Amelia Peabody, how happy am I to be wrong! Plus Joan Hess is doing an event just a block from my house, oh, I can't wait to go!

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. She treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies.

It's a quiet, supernatural-adjacent life, until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life."

This sounds like a really interesting take on the Dracula mythology!

Vanguard by Ann Aguirre
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The companion fourth book in the New York Times―bestselling Razorland YA series sees beloved characters reunited and features an unexpected new romance."

Could you give us less details?

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
Published by: Geek and Sundry
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 300 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It's the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport―the world’s most powerful corporation, in a world controlled by corporations.

Joel Byram spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. He’s pretty much an everyday twenty-second century guy with everyday problems―until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.

Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him."

I really had hope in loving Ready Player One and I so didn't... so I now have faith in this book instead.

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh
Published by: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All the world's a stage . . . but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic—literally!

When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he’s taken in by the only ones who don’t treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen."

My old theater loving self just has to say YAS! 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review - Jane Austen's Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Published by: Max Press
Publication Date: 1818
Format: Hardcover, 255 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Anne Elliot is to be pitied. It's not just that her father and eldest sister are vain foolish creatures who care only for rank and money it's that these traits led them to convince Anne to break her engagement to Commander Frederick Wentworth, thinking he would amount to nothing. Seven years later there is finally peace, though not in Anne's heart. She still loves Frederick Wentworth, now a Captain and a wealthy man. Yet she knows she will never be lucky enough to get a second chance to be his wife. Instead she is to move with her family to Bath. They have been forced to give up their ancestral seat of Kellynch Hall due to their straitened circumstances. And in a twist of fate their home is to be let to Captain Wentworth's sister and brother-in-law. What's more Anne is to spend some time with her younger sister Mary at Uppercross, a mere three miles from Kellynch Hall, delaying the painful separation from home and yet seeing it in the hands of strangers who might have become Anne's family! Mary married Charles Musgrove, whom initially paid court to Anne, whom Charles's two sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, would have rather their brother had married. It's Henrietta and Louisa who become the center of the social life around Uppercross as Captain Wentworth visits his sister and decides that one of these two fine ladies will become his wife. Not only has Anne lost the love of her life but she must now watch him court another, her own bloom faded. Though the course of love is never smooth, Louisa meets with a tragic accident which tears at the soul of Captain Wentworth while Anne meets her father's heir, her cousin Mr. Elliot, who sets his sights on Anne's heart, a heart that is receptive to his advances at first. Can Anne find love again after so many years being thwarted? And who will win her heart? The old flame or the new?

For certain reasons Persuasion is the one book by Austen I'm least likely to turn to when needing an Austen fix. This has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with the 1995 adaptation. While for most adaptations I'm able to appreciate them to varying extents and then leave them behind, I just can't with Persuasion. To me the adaptation and the book are one. I find this ridiculous. I really don't know where this came from. When I re-read Pride and Prejudice I don't always see Colin Firth! He might be the best Mr. Darcy but depending on my mood Mr. Darcy could be any number of very good Darcys out there. Yet Captain Wentworth is Ciarán Hinds and Anne Elliot is Amanda Root and Mr. Elliot is Samuel West. And here's the thing; I HATE them all in this adaptation. It's not that they're wrong for the roles per se, it's just that my mind actually revolts at this casting, or maybe it's the directing, I just can't. Amanda Root with that emotionless placidity and those horribly high collared dresses, Samuel West with his smarm, and Ciarán Hinds? Just all the no. Now this isn't like my seething hatred of the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, because nothing will ever match that, this is just the actors entering my subconscious and making the book less than. Because the book is brilliant and if I could just somehow succeed at untangling the two it seriously would better my literary life and I would be ever so grateful for purifying my love of Austen. Perhaps intense therapy by watching the 2007 version over and over again might help? Yet the irony of it all is that unlike Frances O'Connor I actually really like the three leads. In other things obviously. In fact I quite admire Ciarán Hinds, just never as a romantic lead. As for Samuel West? He really has grown on me over the years, plus if I ever get annoyed with him I can just watch him getting killed in Howards End and we're all good. As for Amanda Root she redeemed herself with The Forsyte Saga. Now if only I could have the book be the book and the movie be the movie!

I will say I succeeded far better this time around at trying to make this separation a reality. "Forcing" myself to think of Rupert Penry-Jones was very helpful. But more than that it's how having re-read Austen's entire oeuvre in such quick succession I was struck by how mature her writing had become and all other issues faded away. This makes it all the more heartbreaking that she died so young seeing what her writing could have evolved into. Her six books are all classics, but with Persuasion we see Austen at the top of her game. She's a more confident writer, willing to take narrative risks and in the end creating what I think is her most approachable book for modern readers. Where this really shines is in the almost stream of conscious panicked flow of her thoughts when she encounters Captain Wentworth again for the first time. Even if Andrew Davies in his introduction hadn't pointed this observation out to me I know I would have latched onto it and other moments like it. There's something about these sections that pulse with life. It captures to an extent not just how you think when under pressure but it's almost as if Austen has perfectly captured what it's like to be in the midst of a panic attack. The whooshing of time and thoughts, the way time expands and contracts, the rushed half composed thoughts just pushing against you: [A] thousand feelings rushed on Anne, of which this was the most consoling, that it would soon be over. And it was soon over. In two minutes after Charles's preparation, the others appeared; they were in the drawing-room. Her eye half met Captain Wentworth's, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; he talked to Mary, said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves, enough to mark an easy footing; the room seemed full, full of persons and voices, but a few minutes ended it. Charles shewed himself at the window, all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone, the Miss Musgroves were gone too, suddenly resolving to walk to the end of the village with the sportsmen: the room was cleared, and Anne might finish her breakfast as she could.

Who couldn't feel for Anne in that moment? The crush and press of all those people in the room and knowing that "the one" was among them. Much like Mansfield Park we, as readers, are in an interesting position having not been there for the courtship of our hero and heroine. "The One" has already been found and the love is already there. But here it's more unique in that it was lost. Anne is a different kind of heroine to any of Austen's previous heroines. She found love at a young age but was dissuaded and therefore lost the love of her life. Unlike Darcy who is rejected by Elizabeth their love wasn't cemented so a similarity of situations doesn't exist. All Austen's heroines have at some time thought they have lost the love of their lives but unlike Anne they haven't had to wait almost a decade for a happily ever after. If you start to lose hope after a few months, imagine the pain bearing this weight year after year? She lost everything to care for her family, to tend to the duty due to the Elliot name and yet by some miracle she is given a second chance. She is past her prime, as can not be said enough by Austen as she tells of the faded bloom that Anne once possessed, and yet there is hope from the ashes. She regains her beauty as she regains the belief that Captain Wentworth hasn't forsaken her. Their love is just as strong if not stronger. It has endured. And while I begrudge the 1995 adaptation I do agree with it's tagline as "A Fairy Tale for Adults." This isn't about finding perfect happiness as a young teenager, this is about love enduring, how even when you're at the age when society has written you off as being hopeless with regards to finding a mate it can still happen. Seeing as I'm not the teenager I was when I first picked up Persuasion being told that it can still happen is a magical message indeed. I will of course ignore the fact that they met while teenagers and that Anne's older sister named Elizabeth is probably on the shelf forever. See, I can delude myself in some regards!

With Austen's more mature authorial voice she's also willing to tackle more "real world" problems. She began this in Mansfield Park by actually deigning to talk about the war and here she continues that and compounds it with depictions of licentiousness, poverty, and illness. So while she might still rush her endings she is braver in depicting the larger world around her through the filter of the drawing room instead of having anything untoward happen off book and open to interpretation. Which brings me to the Musgroves. While one could make fun of the Musgroves as being a family that tends to fall and injure themselves, a lot, I see this as just a vehicle in which Austen is showing the precarious nature of health in that day and age. At this time in her life Jane was probably thinking quite a lot on life and death as she was slowly dying herself. Unlike in other books where deaths are just backstory here they're more present, more real. Death is the end of any story, happy or otherwise. Maybe it's just the fact that health care is constantly in the news that this aspect of Persuasion struck me so forcibly, but life was precarious. Life is still precarious. Yes, we have had amazing advancements in medical care but there is still suffering, there is still lack of access, there are still people like Anne's friend Mrs. Smith! Poor and in pain and trying to reclaim some of their lives. And Mrs. Smith is herself an interesting character. How exactly are we meant to deal with her? She was Anne's equal now fallen on hard times. Therefore she deserves our pity. And yet... This and yet is because she withholds key information from Anne and only decides to tell her when she thinks it will bring herself gain. This is all water under the bridge and Mrs. Smith is congratulated as helping reunite the happy couple and she gets the help she needed. But she got it in such a scheming way that I still don't know what to make of her. And here is the power of Austen. Complex characters that make us think. I might in the end not like Mrs. Smith, but I pity her and admire her balls.

The characters though I can never admire on any level are Anne's father and her eldest sister Elizabeth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are perhaps the most self-centered vainglorious characters Austen has ever written. And the thing is, I don't think she wrote them as comedic relief, no matter how hard you laughed when hearing how many mirrors Sir Walter had in his dressing room or how he will only observe people under natural light. I believe that she wrote them to be a social commentary on Bath. If you've read anything about Austen's life you know she lived in Bath for a time and that she hated every moment of it. In Northanger Abbey we get a taste of Bath life but all the characters are passing through. They've only made Bath their temporary destination. They are tourists, nothing more, and it's not these people that Austen seeks to lambaste. It's those who have chosen Bath as their permanent residence. Whether she's commenting on the town because of the type of people it draws or on the people themselves, one thing is certain, as Austen has written Anne's family they are true denizens of Bath. When Kellynch has to be given up Bath is the obvious choice, for personality type more than for financial straits. Here Sir Walter and Elizabeth can glory at all the people who want to be near them and they in turn can fawn over their Dalrymple cousins. It's a symbiotic relationship of people who are leeches in a town that leeches your will to life. It's no wonder Anne hates the town so much, who wants to be around a swarm of self-centered assess who long to be trendsetters whom everyone follows? No thank you. As for the whole "Anne losing her bloom" perhaps it was a combination of Bath coupled with the lose of Captain Wentworth. Bath sucked Austen's will to write and it was her fallow period, therefore it's no wonder when reclaiming her voice she decided to shout to the rooftops her hatred of the Roman town.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Do Not Quite Despair Yet

Now that I'm talking about these pieces here on my blog I've noticed a trend is for me to change the intention of the original piece illustrated by the brothers Brock by eliminating a character. This often shifts the narrative in another direction, sometimes inwards. The elimination of a character also sometimes makes the piece unbalanced, here with the object of Catherine and Mrs. Allen's gaze being out of frame. I wanted that lack of balance. I wanted the viewer to feel the unease of Catherine as she desperately waits for the weather to clear so that she might get her longed for walk with Miss Tilney. Of course in the original piece, as happens in the story, it's the odious John Thorpe who enters and sweeps Catherine away and mortifies her in front of the Tilneys. John Thorpe needed to be eliminated in so many ways and omitting him from this piece brought me joy. But by rewinding the narrative until the moment before John Thorpe enters I have given Catherine hope, she does not quite despair... yet. As for the medium choices, a reproduction, no matter how good, doesn't quite do "I Do Not Quite Despair Yet" justice. The paper is a textured off-white that I have heavily varnished with Mod Podge to give it the slickness of the damnably interfering rain. I then did quick pen work over the top, trying to stay away from the precision of the original which I knew I didn't want to or couldn't achieve. An interesting note on this piece is that I totally forgot I made it. When I framed the other pieces in the series this escaped me and therefore it was a few years later that it was framed and joined the others in my library. It is very happy to have been reunited. Because it feels so good. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Room for Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 278 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When radio reporter Carol Childs is called to a crime scene in the Hollywood Hills at five thirty in the morning, she’s convinced it must be a publicity stunt to promote a new movie. That is, until she sees the body hanging from the center of the Hollywood sign. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but something doesn’t add up for Carol. Particularly after a mysterious caller named Mustang Sally confesses to the murder on the air and threatens to kill again. With the help of an incorrigible PI, her best friend, and a kooky psychic, Carol is drawn into the world of contract killers and women scorned. As she races to find the real killer, she finds herself faced with a decision that will challenge everything she thought she knew.

“In Room for Doubt, a page-turning cozy with a dollop of noir, investigative reporter Carol Childs goes undercover to infiltrate a secret society that’s meeting out savage justice for scorned women. At the same time, Childs navigates the behind-the-scenes minefield of a radio news station, a world which the author knows firsthand, and a new relationship with an unconventionally sexy PI, who further complicates Childs’ personal life. With a carload of quirky characters and a Los Angeles setting that comes alive, there’s no doubt Nancy Cole Silverman has penned another winner.” – Dianne Emley, L.A. Times Bestselling Author of the Nan Vining Series"

I like that it kind of sounds like Moonlighting, combining the cozy crime solving with the seedy underbelly of LA. 

The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger
Published by: GAIL CARRIGER LLCs
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Kindle, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Can a gentle werewolf heal the heart of a smart-mouthed mage?

New York Times bestseller Gail Carriger, writing as G. L. Carriger, presents an offbeat gay romance in which a sexy werewolf with a white knight complex meets a bad boy mage with an attitude problem. Sparks (and other things) fly.

Max fails everything - magic, relationships, life. So he works for DURPS (the DMV for supernatural creatures) as a sumage, cleaning up other mages' messes. The job sucks and he's in no mood to cope with redneck biker werewolves. Unfortunately, there's something oddly appealing about the huge, muscled Beta visiting his office for processing.

Bryan AKA Biff (yeah, he knows) is gay but he's not out. There's a good chance Max might be reason enough to leave the closet, if he can only get the man to go on a date. Everyone knows werewolves hate mages, but Bryan is determined to prove everyone wrong, even the mage in question.

Delicate Sensibilities? This story contains M/M sexitimes and horrible puns. If you get offended easily, then you probably will. The San Andreas Shifter stories contain blue language, dirty deeds, and outright admiration for the San Francisco Bay Area. Not for the faint of heart (mouth/tongue/etc.).

This book stands alone, but there is a prequel short story featuring Bryan's brother, Alec, the Alpha. Want to know why the pack moved? Read Marine Biology."

I really enjoyed Marine Biology when it came out originally and was very excited for it's peripheral attachment to the Parasol-verse, so a full book? Yes please! 

The Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Cate Coblentz
Published by: Dover Publication
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Once in a blue moon, a blue kitten is born. And that little cat knows how to hear the song of the river — the ancient song of creation, as old as the world itself. Occasionally there have been men and women who were born knowing the song, but mortals cannot teach it to each other. Only a blue cat can do that, one who sings and believes in the song.

This is the story of the blue cat sent by the river to restore the days of Bright Enchantment, when there was beauty and peace and contentment in people's hearts. But now a dark spell is enveloping Castle Town, brewing an obsession with gold and possessions. The river's song declares that riches and power will fade, while the beauty of handmade crafts endures, and the blue cat must find a mortal who will not only listen to the song but also sing it. Inspired by the real-life artistry of 19th-century Vermont crafters, this charmingly illustrated 1950 Newbery Honor winner continues to captivate young dreamers."

Yes, I'm a sucker for stories about kitties.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Playing the Tourist: Bath

So I recommend Bath with the full knowledge that Jane Austen herself is pissed at me for doing so. But it's an irony of life that the place that she most hated, living there for a few bleak unproductive years, is the place now most associated with her. Not just because her two posthumously published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are predominately set there, but because Bath itself is virtually unchanged since her time and houses the Jane Austen Centre which hosts the yearly Jane Austen Festival, which is in September if you're interested in attending. So if you're following in the footsteps of Jane and her novels, you must invariably go to Bath. Sorry Jane. But for the Janeite it's such a thrill, to be able to walk past Jane's house at Number 4 Sydney Place, to go to the pump room where you can still take the waters! Though they do sound gross and are warm. To marvel at the Roman Baths, and yes, that's basically where the water is from. To promenade along the Royal Crescent. To literally BE in her world. It's the closest you can get to a time machine.

But most importantly, it's where the Jane Austen Centre is located. Oh, how I LONG to make the pilgrimage there. And for me it IS a pilgrimage. Though I fear the gift shop might bankrupt me, it's bad enough I can order some things online! And I just noticed they have a bicentenary mug... I think that's a must buy. While the centre does have many wonderful artifacts and recently unveiled the most accurate depiction of Jane to date with a new waxwork that looks eerily like the author Mary Robinette Kowal, it's the immersive elements that make it so unique. All the guides are dressed in historically accurate clothing and portray characters from Austen's books. Yet to get the true experience I've always found that wearing the clothes of a time period really transports you, and yes, you can do that here! In fact it's their most popular exhibit! They have a selection of Regency dresses, coats, bonnets, top hats, shawls, fans, reticules, and parasols all for you to try on and get your picture taken in! After that experience you're probably in need of refreshment, and they have a tea room on site where you can relax while a painting of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy presides over the room. One can hope that Jane would at least approve of that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TV Movie Review - Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: March 25th, 2007
Starring: Geraldine James, Julia Dearden, Gerry O'Brien, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Desmond Barrit, Felicity Jones, J.J. Feild, Bernadette McKenna, William Beck, Shauna Taylor, Sophie Vavasseur, Carey Mulligan, Hugh O'Conor, Mark Dymond, Catherine Walker, and Liam Cunningham
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Catherine Moreland didn't have the upbringing or character to be a heroine. Despite how many horrid Gothic novels she's read none of her daydreams of masked bandits and vampires was ever going to come true. But just because she wasn't destined to be a heroine didn't mean her life would be without adventure. To that end the Allens, dear family friends, invite her to go to Bath with them. Balls! Gowns! Shopping! Society! And who knows, maybe a dashing stranger would ask her to dance? Henry Tilney is more goofy than dashing, but in one dance he makes a deep impression on Catherine. Her later friendship with Isabella Thorpe and the attentions of Isabella's brother John Thrope can not sway her affections for Henry Tilney. When she is invited by Henry's father under a purposeful misunderstanding to return with them to their home of Northanger Abbey nothing could make Catherine happier than perhaps if Isabella would stop flirting with Henry's older brother while engaged to her own brother James Moreland! Yet Catherine's daydreams of what an Abbey means in Gothic literature might get her into trouble. Yes, there might be dark secrets and vampirism at the Abbey, but not of the kind Mrs. Radcliffe writes about. Could Catherine's imagination get in the way of finding true love? Or is her desire to be a heroine going to pay off with a happily ever after?

In the spring of 2007 I was beyond thrilled at the prospect of ITV's Austen season. New adaptations of Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey? I could not wait! Each one had something to recommend it. Persuasion had Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing Sir Walter Elliot, Mansfield Park starred Billie Piper in her first post-Doctor Who role, and Northanger Abbey was adapted by Andrew Davies. Andrew Davies! Who understands what adapting a book is about, spirit versus direct transcription! Though he has said you can basically cut and paste Austen's books from prose to screenplay. I viewed this televisual event as a chance to reacquaint myself with the lesser read of Austen's novels, as I viewed these three at the time. What I found interesting is that my opinion and these three books radically changed on that reading. Though what surprised me the most was how much I adored Northanger Abbey. I had actually never re-read Northanger Abbey after that first read ten years previously because I was too naive to get the parody aspect at the time and therefore ranked it as Austen's worst novel. Older, and hopefully wiser, I thought Austen had never been funnier. And as for Henry Tilney? He instantly became my favorite Austen hero. Why? Because he is a fully rounded character, not some ideal. He has a sense of humor, he loves to read, and well, he's not perfect and somehow that makes him perfect.

When it came to the adaptation of Northanger Abbey my ever increasing love of Henry Tilney wasn't in the least hurt by the masterful portrayal of the role by J.J. Feild. In fact, I'm sure that my reconsideration was in no small part helped by J.J. There's only so much a book can do until you can affix a visual to a character, which is why I often dream cast books as I read them. I couldn't have done better than J.J. for Henry Tilney. Prior to his becoming Henry Tilney he'd made a minor impression on me. As Frederick Garland in the Sally Lockhart mysteries he made the most of a role that PBS almost obliterated with their editing. And when he starred in The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton he'd made enough of a favorable impression that I just couldn't believe he'd give his wife a venereal disease! And I would have totally taken him back with that hangdog expression almost more sheepish than Hugh Grant's patented look. But it was Northanger Abbey that made him forever one of my favorite male actors. The humor? The arch looks? He's perfection. He nails the comedy but he can combine it with pathos and stern censor yet all coming from the heart. He became my heartthrob. I've watched everything he's been in since, yes, even Captain America. I even tried my hardest to like TURN with his little rat tail, but even he couldn't elevate that show. But while I'll always point to Northanger Abbey as the true beginning of my crush, the zenith is Austenland.

Though I do wonder if the little Gothic fantasies of Catherine might supersede the perfection of Austenland. These are not only hilarious, I think they are the key to the dramatization of Northanger Abbey. It's not just that seeing Catherine actually dressed up as the heroine she wishes herself to be pursued by villains is perfection, it's that these overacted vignettes show perfectly her overactive imagination and how she is later able to suspect Henry's father of murder. What's more they perfectly capture the tone Austen was aiming for in her parodying of Gothic literature. Northanger Abbey was written from a place of mocking love, you can see Austen herself has read and devoured these novels from Mrs. Radcliffe and Lewis, how else could she know them so well to then poke fun of them? Yet as I myself proved on my first reading, I was naive to what she was parodying and therefore was unable to understand the brilliance of the book. There dramatization of Catherine's daydreams coupled with excerpts from the actual books referenced by Austen gives the viewer a quick grounding in the genre and then moves onward to parodying that genre. Therefore Davies has made Northanger Abbey able to stand on it's own. Context while nice isn't necessary if this is your first exposure to Austen. If only this adaptation had existed when I first read Northanger Abbey I would have come around to loving it so much soon!

The only thing I really question about this adaptation is did Isabella really have sex with Captain Fredrick Tilney, Henry's older brother, in order to secure an engagement to him? In the edition of Northanger Abbey I recently re-read the introduction was penned by Andrew Davies and he says that Isabella's seduction and therefore her fall from polite society is supported in the text. But is it? In his adaptation of Sense and Sensibility Andrew Davies had Colonel Brandon and Willoughby duel. I of course thought this was creative license along the lines of a certain wet shirt. But if you read Sense and Sensibility knowing that a duel occurs, sure enough, it's not an exaggeration, it is supported by the text. There is a line where Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that he dueled Willoughby when recounting his sad history with Eliza. So knowing that Andrew Davies was right on the duel I was expecting to find him right on the seduction... but I at least didn't see that in the book. Catherine is away from Bath so we as readers are away from the action. So we see Isabella flirting with Captain Tilney and then Catherine gets a letter from Isabella asking for Catherine to help repair the breach with her brother and former fiance James Moreland. While Isabella's desire to return to James might seem out of character I don't think we can infer that she was trying to get back her old beau in a hurry because she was despoiled and possibly pregnant. After all the conditions under which their marriage was to take place figured in a two year engagement. So if I'm missing some key in the text I want to know! Otherwise I think it's all Davies and his desire to add a little more explicit sex to Austen.

But I will allow this license with regard to Isabella because seriously, I hate the whole Thorpe family. A bunch of low class no accounts who weasel their way in and manipulate. What I won't forgive is the clunky narration. At the beginning and the end of the movie Geraldine James has a little voice over. The beginning is actually the first lines of the book and the conclusion is a little of the end of the book and a little artistic license on Andrew Davies part. What I take issue with is that it just doesn't work. It sticks out and makes the whole movie not a cohesive whole. Look to the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma where at the end the narrator was revealed to be Mrs. Elton in a wonderfully fun turn of events and as also a way to incorporate the narrative device into the overall story. Here it just falls flat. Yes, I do agree that there needs to be some framing device but it needed grounding. According to IMDb Geraldine James is actually Jane Austen. Um, I didn't get this at all and I'm pretty sure it didn't say that in the credits. Also, if she was supposed to be Austen, she was 57 when this film was made... more than a tad too old to be Jane. They could have gone the root of Emma and had another character narrating it, but on further reflection wouldn't it have been wonderful for Mrs. Tilney to be the narrator? Looking down on the girl who was going to grow up and make her son happy. In order to get the point across the portrait of Mrs. Tilney could have been of Geraldine James and if you caught it you caught it and if you didn't, no matter. It would have been a cute little nod and a wink and would have made me very happy indeed. 

Older Posts