Posts Tagged ‘Sense and Sensibility’

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall, scripted Peter Straughan)

‘Fortitude. … It means fixity of purpose. It means endurance. It means having the strength to live with what constrains you.’ — Mantel, Wolf Hall (a common theme in women’s novels since the 18th century)

Dear friends and readers,

I have ever found solace, comfort, models to channel in my reading. I am listening to a brilliant reading of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (CDs in my car), and find I am perpetually enriched by new thoughts, insights, reminders of what I know to be importantly true put in new ways. One character whose thoughts and behavior out of grief I find myself remembering, is Thomas Cromwell’s.

Early in the novel his wife, Liz, dies suddenly, swiftly of the sweating or sleeping sickness (as it was called in the 1520s). Albeit quietly, he is intensely grief-stricken, misses her. While he has an affair with Liz’s sister, Joanne, because Joanne resembles her sister and is there, and does not remarry for more and far different kinds of reasons than that he finds her as an individual who provided support, comfort, a kind of meaning and stable sane mood to his life irreplaceable, nonetheless he dreams of Liz, finds himself trying to grasp her ghostly presence in his thoughts, his environment, he re-enacts talk with her.

POV Cromwell, coming up to Johann (Saskia Reeves), his sister-in-law, now loved

POV Cromwell, a moment later seeing Joanne as Liz (Natasha Little)

He compares what he sees other women doing to what she did. I am nearing the end of the novel where he acknowledges in passing thoughts his relationship to Liz has changed now, his feelings altered. The first year of her death his household did almost nothing to observe Christmas, more than four years later all holiday and other customs are encouraged.

Two or three days ago Slater read the passage where Cromwell at home, once again picks up Liz’s prayer book.

Early in first episode we glimpse Liz’s prayer book, as Cromwell talks of the Tyndale that has come by mail (steathily) and Liz turns away …

She had refused to read the Bible in English, would not listen to the liberating theology of Tyndale. There had been this uncrossable space between them, and yet he cherished the book. We see him muse over it at his desk, take it down from what seems to be a shelf (presumably in his bedroom); next to her name is the name of her first husband, and then below his own. This has hurt him out of jealousy — as also the names of their children together, two daughters because they died of the same sickness not long after, so out of grief and loss, and a son, now living still whom he does all he can for. The moment that means much to me is when he finds himself looking at the entry and crossing out her other husband’s name. He finds he can; he finds he feels better for this, looking about him. The whole thing no longer means as much or means differently. Beautifully authentically caught.

In the book, in the film adaptation, Mantel as Cromwell, Rylance as Cromwell mourn for many others beyond Liz, and mourn for themselves too.

Steady now, steady on.

This morning I found myself remembering a passage from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (no need for me to have it read aloud to me, much less read it myself) where after she has the searing relevation that he has been engaged for four years to another woman, she reflects that no matter how busy she keeps herself, how much she refuses to indulge herself by remembering in solitude, there is still time enough for thoughts of him and what had been to rise to consciousness. But she holds firm, writes on at her desk (Sense and Sensibility was originally an epistolary novel).

The 1995 S&S film, scripted by Emma Thompson realizes just this moment (Thompson as Elinor)

Steady now, steady on.

I had been overbusy for many days and yesterday gave in to myself or could not get myself to take a long trip in the deadly heat (officially it felt like 107 fahrenheit) so did not go to the adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton playing at the Gallaudet College: car, train, then try to find it for at least a 20 minute walk, and after a possible hour or so of play, reverse the experience. I preferred to stay in, read an essay on Fielding which helps me see his true integrity, fineness of feeling,


go swimming nearby, a six minute trip by car each way while listening to Wolf Hall, and then home to watch a beloved mini-series. But I felt terrible too. My unwillingness to go was a sign Jim was dead: with him there it would have been no trouble to go (he would have driven us, and had no trouble finding the place, and little trouble parking), I’d not have given it any thought; without him, watching these plays can be desolating as I’ve no one to talk to about them afterward. I cannot yet cross this out and yet I’m beginning to have no need to re-enact.

This morning like Elinor I found the thoughts about this would rise to the surface. I made my routine up for the day, and determined that the way I am living is not done simply because I can’t break the yoke of what I used to do. These things before me — my writing, reading, task routine, my breaks (today again swimming nearby) however meaningless now or to others are what I am, what I enjoy doing, what I understand, get fulfillment from.

Steady now, steady on.

Pussycats (my household) this morning

Miss Drake

Who we are determines what we notice and what we regard as worthy of notice, what we find significant…
—Robert Coles, Doing Documentary Work


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‘It is not every one,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.’ –Jane Austen, S&S

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday I was expecting a guest — an Internet friend — coming by airplane, and I suddenly thought to remove all the dead leaves off of my stoop. I take out the sad broom I own and it gets nowhere. Then I realized for the first time I don’t own a rake. I’ve lived in this house since 1983 and have never thought to buy a rake? wait, maybe we did have one years and years ago and it broke. Well then I (we) never thought to replace it. We pay people to mow and in fall once to rake and put all the leaves in a bag and in spring once to do a sort of clean up … The admiral always said leaves were good as fertilizers and we should leave them to do their thing …

Clary cat on the alert for the occasional stray dead leaf — she’s near the door; the Admiral nicknamed her Marianne and would try to keep them from her

Sylvia who lives in a house inundated by leaves each fall

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The movie’s a masterpiece and what makes it so is the music and pictures. They come out of, are chosen from a psychodrama which blends its dual auteurs, Lee and Thompson.

I never tire of it. Here is one of their climaxes:

We are to imagine Marianne playing:


We see a montage of landscapes she is looking through her window out at:


Then listen by clicking: you will see a montage of scenes of Rickman and Winslet together and Rickman alone. (I know, I know. It utterly distorts the movie which is not an erotic love romance. But the YouTube has the original music and you can hear the words clearly.) The words are by Ben Jonson; the music, Patrick Doyle; the singer, Jane Eaglen.

The lyrics also climax Lee’s autobiography which focuses on his conflicts with his father.

A few scenes before Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon read aloud this, another series of verses from a Renaissance poet, Edmund Spenser in Book V of The Faerie Queene by Spenser to Kate Winslet as Marianne:

Sith thou misdeem’st so much of things in sight?
What though the sea with waves continuall
Does eate the earth, it is nor more at all:
Nor is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

These connect back to the death of Thompson’s father: the death of a father is central to the thematic music of the film too.

One of my favorite stills:

Elinor writing of all that has happened — a surrogate for Austen


Rickman as a melancholy man of sensibility, early in film, as yet preferring solitude


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At pivot central point of From Prada to Nada we have antagonist-flirting scene of Bruno (Brandon) with Mary (Marianne), reminiscent of Darcy and Elizabeth sparring

Dear friends and readers,

It is resolved, my problem solved. I will finish my book, A Place of Refuge, for now without a subtitle, but its center will be the 6 Sense and Sensibility films made thus far. The title must change as the argument will be about a subdivision of the Austen genre of film.

I’ve read the Prologue and Chapters 1-3 (S&Ss 1971, 1981, 1995) of my Part 2 and they are very good; I see where I can cut a lot (notes) and focus more tightly, clearly too. If they are too detailed, sobeit. I’ve thought of a way of cutting and shaping a Chapter 5 (2008 JA’s S&S by Davies, Pivcevic and Alexander).

How to re-shape Chapter 5: must begin with same low-key description of film that began Chs 2-3; the matter now at front should be part of two comparative analyses. To keep chapter doable must say Davies work so extensive I will concentrate just on the Austen genre and those films that influenced him: 2008 S&S develops out of 1995 P&P with intervention of 95 S&S and 2005 P&P (Wright’s). The intertextuality business take for granted or bring up as you go. Center of first half how the plot-design totally re-shaped.

I am typing out my preliminary notes for Chapter 6 (2011 From Prada to Nada, Garcia, Pritzker, Ellzey, Gilbert; Torres & Alfaro) for which I’ve just purchased the screenplay.

Now for argument across whole book. You are treating a subdivision of these films or a theme within them; that the dramatic romance tradition is the one that brings out where it’s worth while reading Austen. They represent the thoughts that emerged in the later revisions. The first chapter would explain how to read a film, how genres of films relate to novels. Make case for books as heavily revised problematic books. Peel off hagiography; neither model adequate but dramatic familial romance & serial treatment gets us closer. Look at multiple serial adaptations of non-serial fiction. Choice of arc of narrative, of narrator? Where do they break? How long? Whose POV? The 1972 Emma is 6 parts; the 2009 Emma is 4 – what does that do the arc of the narrative?

Conclusion that the films belong in subfamilies according to eponymous source. Each one done in this way would yield its meaning as we see them dealing with set of problems. Epistolary nature of the books (filmic epistolarity in 1983 & 1999 MPs, or narrators of 1993 Ruby in Paradise, 2009 Lost in Austen); distaste for conventional heterosexual sex & indifference to usual novel endings (Endings imposed, talk scenes); abject point of view (most subversive element in films, Miss Austen Regrets; danger they are used to re-bind women, as in Aisha).

I have to wait to see if my Trollope proposal is accepted, but that will only delay not stop me from going forward with this once again


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