Lady Susan: the Most Unlikely Heroine

Love and FriendshipI promised you something about the newest Jane Austen adaptation: Love and Friendship, based on one of her lesser works known as Lady Susan.

But first I have to brag a little about the progress I’ve been making on my latest book (see Work in Progress). Other commitments had kept me away from getting any serious writing done for a long time, so it feels wonderful to be back at my desk nearly every day again! I still have a long way to go, but I hope to have this one (and a second related novel as a bonus (see Crossroads Collection) out before the end of the year.

Now, we return you to our originally scheduled program:

Naturally, I was thrilled when I heard there was a new film coming based on a Jane Austen work, and one that had never been done before, too: Lady Susan.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Lady Susan is a novella (short novel) that Jane Austen began when she was only seventeen and completed several years later. It’s written in epistolary form, which means it tells the story through a series of letters exchanged between connected characters. This was a popular style at the time while the new literary form, the “novel,” was still evolving into what we know it as today. Did you know that Jane Austen wrote her first drafts of what would become Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form also? I’m glad she didn’t leave them that way, though.

Lady Susan features a very unlikely heroine. Unlikely because she’s so unlikable. (By comparison, Emma, who is often considered JA’s least likable leading lady, is a total saint!) I hesitate to even call Lady Susan Vernon a heroine, because there’s absolutely nothing heroic about her. She is a conniving woman, still intoxicatingly beautiful in her late 30s, who indiscriminately uses her power over men to get what she needs/wants, often at the expense of her own daughter. She could be rightly described as a sociopath, since she is selfish, vain, and operates outside the normal constraints of love and conscience.

How do you like her so far?

Lady Susan is know by her peers as “the most accomplished coquette in England” – in other words, a flirt of the highest order. She’s a brilliant virtuoso, a master at her craft. She has a silver, but forked, tongue able to skillfully twist the truth others tell about herself to sound like a slanderous lie and her own version of events the most reasonable thing in the world. In fact, if she were here right now, she would convince you in ten minutes that what I’ve just said about her is only an unfortunate misunderstanding. If you’re a man with a pulse, she’d have you in five!

With only this description, I wouldn’t have bothered reading the novella, and I’d probably have skipped the film too… except for one thing; it was written by Jane Austen. It is her genius that makes the story worthwhile. She takes this despicable character and makes her not simply mean but intensely interesting.

You might not be aware of it, but Jane Austen’s wit had a caustic side (I could do a whole post on that, and maybe I will.), and Lady Susan is the perfect vehicle to exercise it. Here’s what Kate Beckinsale, who plays the title role in the movie had to say in an interview:Kate Beckinsale discusses Love and Friendship

 I’m fairly familiar with Jane Austen and I think she’s so incredibly insightful and funny, but I didn’t realize she had such a naughty streak. I hadn’t seen such a broad kind of feminist-y heroine who is terrible and diabolical and cruel. Yet she’s also functioning within the constraints that existed at that time for women. Her big concern is her future security.

In that respect, Lady Susan Vernon (a widow with a grown daughter but no money) isn’t so very different from all Austen’s other leading ladies. She is a survivor, not a fainting victim. As explained in a related blog article in Ms. Magazine

The appeal of Austen’s heroines is that, whether through patience, wit, endurance, or in Lady Susan’s case, duplicity and scheming, they achieve happily-ever-afters on their own terms. Their happy endings are not without caveats, but the women negotiate the best lives for themselves in a world where choice is minimal.

A few of Austen’s heroines make brilliant marriages, it’s true (Lizzy Bennet, most notably), but most come to terms with and find contentment in what could be considered compromises. Elinor gets the man she loves but must live in comparative poverty because he’s been disinherited. Catherine Morland and Fanny Price wed men who will never be rich either. Maryanne marries the steady, devoted older man instead of the dashing young hero she originally felt she had to have. Anne gets her happy ending, but only after seven long lost years of pain and disappointment.

Love and Friendship 2In the end, Lady Susan must make some compromises, too. But she finds a way to survive. And, according to the film at least, she manages to have her cake and eat it too. We don’t have to like her, but we may begrudgingly admire her just a little.

I hope you’re intrigued enough to not only read Lady Susan but also see Love and Friendship.

Lady Susan made an ideal subject for film adaptation for a couple of reasons. First, it’s short (only about 50 pages-worth of material) so, unlike with full-length novels, nothing had to be cut to fit into a standard movie format. Second, since it’s written in letters, it’s all made-to-order dialogue already. Yes, it has to be rearranged into live action, but everything’s there with nothing lost in narration passages.

Whit Stillman did a good job of adapting the work too, keeping to the story and using much of Jane Austen’s original language. It’s sharp, intelligent, and witty from beginning to end. I enjoyed the film very much, despite (or perhaps because of?) its unlikable heroine.

You may not be able to find it in theaters (it garnered only a limited release), but it’s due out on video soon. That might even be the preferred way to watch it. It moves along so quickly that it’s hard to catch everything the first time through. I felt like by the time I had understood and appreciated one delightful line of dialogue, I had probably missed something else equally good. So watch it twice or pause along the way to laugh aloud. If you like your humor on the satirical side, you will enjoy Love and Friendship.

At present, nothing goes smoothly. The females of the family are united against me… I remember saying to myself as I drove to the house, “I like this man; pray Heaven no harm come of it!” But I was determined to be discreet, to bear in mind my being only four months a widow, and to be as quiet as possible. And I have been so; my dear creature, I have admitted no one’s attentions but Manwaring’s, I have avoided all general flirtation whatever, I have distinguished no creature besides of all the numbers resorting hither, except Sir James Martin, on whom I bestowed a little notice in order to detach him from Miss Manwaring. But if the world could know my motive there, they would honour me. – Lady Susan


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Bad Acting

Mansfield Park2No, this is not another movie review (although I will be writing something about Love and Friendship next time). Think more Mansfield Park.

This past Saturday, June 25th, I presented a program on Jane Austen at my local library: “Twenty-first Century Jane” – how movies, sequels, and modern variations are helping to carry her popularity into the new millennium. As part of my preparations for the program, I watched (or rewatched) several of the film adaptations, including two of Mansfield Park. And because the book I’m currently working on (see Work-in-Progress page) will have a MP angle to it, I paid close attention.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about Fanny Price and, more specifically, that unfortunate episode of amateur theatrics. You may remember that while Sir Thomas was gone to Antigua, Tom Bertram and his friend Mr. Yates cooked up the idea of putting on a play at home, just to amuse themselves, and they recruited the Miss Bertrams, the Crawfords, and Mr. Rushworth to join in. They were soon assigning parts and making all kinds of plans, including sets and costumes.

Mansfield ParkSounds like harmless fun, right? I think it’s difficult, especially for today’s readers, to understand why Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price were so strongly opposed to the idea. And Jane Austen disapproved too, from how she writes. That may be the most surprising part, since the Austen family is known to have done the same – entertained themselves by creating and acting out amateur theatricals at home.

So what’s the difference here? I decided to look a little deeper into the business.

Edmund objected at once, saying he was certain Sir Thomas wouldn’t approve of his children acting. In a house where the head of the family’s word was law, that should have been enough. Tom chose to disregard what he knew to be true, though.

Then, to compound their error, the company of players made another bad choice. They decided to do Lovers’ Vows. (Presumably, the Austen family never chose to perform this kind of material.)

  The first use [Fanny] made of her solitude was to take up the volume [of “Lovers’ Vows”] which had been left on the table, and begin to acquaint herself with the play of which she had heard so much. Her curiosity was all awake, and she ran through it with an eagerness which was suspended only by intervals of astonishment, that it could be chosen in the present instance—that it could be proposed and accepted in a private Theatre! Agatha and Amelia appeared to her in their different ways so totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty, that she could hardly suppose her cousins could be aware of what they were engaging in; and longed to have them roused as soon as possible by the remonstrance which Edmund would certainly make. (Mansfield Park, chapter 14)

Lover's VowsIn the book and film adaptations, we get little snippets of dialogue as the rehearsals progress, and we see the trouble it creates. But I was still wondering what was so astonishing and improper (according to Fanny in the excerpt above) about the play itself. I found it online and read it. It is a real play, btw, which undoubtedly Jane Austen had read herself. (Read it here if you’re interested)

It didn’t seem so astonishing to me at first (not compared to what we’ve become accustomed to seeing in movies and on TV every day): a woman, who had been seduced by a nobleman under promise of marriage, was instead abandoned by him to raise their son alone in poverty. Twenty years later, just when she is near starving to death, her son chances to meet the baron, whom he discovers to be his father, etc., etc.

It takes a lot more than that to shock us these days. But consider that the story of Mansfield Park was taking place in a very different age and culture.

Although these sorts of things happened, even then, they were not talked of in polite society. Children of gentility – the girls at least – were carefully sheltered and guarded. And a career on the stage was absolutely out of the question for anyone from a good family. So to have the daughters of Sir Thomas Bertram participating in a play, especially when it meant that one of them would be posing as and speaking the part of the unwed mother of an illegitimate child, was shockingly bad indeed. Not to mention that the actress (Maria, in this case) would be embracing an actor who was definitely NOT her son or even the man she was engaged to, but bad boy Henry Crawford instead…

The only thing that could have made the situation worse was to have outsiders present to witness the impropriety, which is what Edmund finally consented to taking a role in the play to prevent.

Sir Thomas BertramSo, Edmund and Fanny were right all along; the acting scheme was a bad idea, at least within the given context. Tom and Maria, who were in denial before, knew it by their guilty consciences as soon as their father returned home unexpectedly. But in the end it wasn’t the words of the play that caused the real trouble; it was the permission the activity granted for bad behavior – all that close contact and sneaking off to “rehearse” in private. There’s little doubt it contributed to what ultimately happened: Maria being ruined by deciding to leave her husband to run off with Henry Crawford.

So, what I want to know is where was Mrs. Norris???

Mrs. NorrisThroughout the entire book she has been poking her nose into the Bertram family business, telling everybody what to do and not do, claiming to be upholding propriety and guarding against wasteful spending. Now, when we really need her to intervene, she fails us. Well, not us, but she does fail the Bertrams, especially Maria who is her favorite.

Doesn’t it seem inconsistent that she not only allowed the acting scheme to go forward but assisted in it? Or was she blinded, like so many people are, by the bright lights and the chance to see her darling Maria shine on stage? All I can say is, “Badly done, Mrs. Norris. Badly done indeed!”





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Them are Stumbling Words

dictionariesEnglish is not a static language. It’s constantly changing, whether we like it or not.

Twenty years ago, “mouse” meant a rodent we hoped never to find in our houses. Now, it’s a friendly little gizmo we’ve grown quite attached to and use every day. In old black-and-white musicals, a guy might have sung about “making love” to a girl and simply meant he wanted to hold her hand and maybe steal a kiss. Today, it would mean he wants a whole lot more than that.

These are fairly recent examples of change. So it shouldn’t surprise us when some of the language in Jane Austen’s novels, written two hundred years ago, doesn’t sound quite right to our modern ears.

saloonActually, her language is one of the aspects of her books I enjoy the most. But emulating it as faithfully as possible has gotten me into some trouble. For instance, one reviewer on Amazon severely berated me for more than once using the word “saloon” in The Darcys of Pemberley, assuming it was a typo and that I surely meant “salon” instead. According to the definitions given in my 2004 Webster’s Encarta Dictionary (and every American western movie ever made), she would be right.

Saloon: commercial establishment serving alcoholic drinks to the general public. Salon: grand sitting room in a large house where guest are received and entertained.

formal sitting roomHowever, my higher authority was Pride and Prejudice (which possibly the outspoken reviewer had never actually read???). In this excerpt from chapter 45, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner have just arrived at Pemberley at the invitation of Miss Darcy:

On reaching the house, they were shown through the hall into the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful for summer. Its windows opening to the ground, admitted a most refreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house, and of the beautiful oaks and Spanish chestnuts which were scattered over the intermediate lawn.

Austen repeated “saloon” a second time shortly thereafter, confirming it was no mistake. So when in The Darcys of Pemberley (and later in Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley) I called the same room the same thing, I was technically correct. Nevertheless, I had stumbled my reader and that’s not a good thing. She (and perhaps others) had come to that unexpected word and tripped over it, pulling her out of the story and giving her a negative impression of my work.

Elizabeth and WickhamAt least in this example my use of a troublesome word, whose meaning had changed over time, was only regarded as a typographical error. I got into more serious trouble with “intimate.” Austen used it 100+ times in her writings, and as far as I can tell, not once did she mean anything sexual by it. Yet, when in TDOP I have Darcy telling Elizabeth that it’s unfortunate she once had a rather “intimate” association with Wickham, noisy protests arose from more than one quarter. “Elizabeth would never!” “Darcy wouldn’t believed her capable of such a thing!” Obviously, some readers thought the word inferred a sexual relationship not intended by the author or by Mr. Darcy either. Yikes!

The word “intercourse,” used dozens of times by Austen to mean any type of exchange between people, usually conversation, must also be handled with care for the same reason. Even an innocent word like “nice” can be misunderstood. As often as not, Austen meant subtle/careful/fastidious/fussy rather than pleasant/kind. And “wonderful” was intended to describe something exciting particular admiration, surprise, or amazement (full-of-wonder), not simply good or great.

…and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books – or at least books of information – for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. (Northanger Abbey, chapter 1)

Hopefully, the modern reader reading Jane Austen isn’t led too far astray by the differences in her language and our everyday meanings. As for me, I’ve learned to steer clear of using potential stumbling words in my writing whenever I can, or at least to clarify what I mean through context. But it’s not always possible.

scrubbing floorsA case in point. The lady in charge of a manor house in those days was the estate’s “housekeeper.”  That’s what she was called; there’s no other word I can use for her. As the highest ranking position to which any female employee could aspire, the title carried with it a great deal of respect among the staff and also from the family they served. But unless the reader understands that, they will likely think of someone down on her knees scrubbing floors instead of what she really was: an important member of the household’s management team. I guess there’s nothing I can do about that.

It’s a continual balancing act: trying to use period-correct language while at the same time writing for the modern reader. I can get into trouble if I stray too far on one side or the other – using right words that now convey wrong meanings, or making the language sound too contemporary. Either error can detract from the reader’s enjoyment of the story.

Has this happened to you? In your reading, have you sometimes stumbled over a clunky word that didn’t seem to belong? Did you misunderstand Austen-style language when you first began reading Regency fiction? Any other related pet peeves?

Posted in English Regency culture, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Gentleman’s Profession

Edward FerrarsEvery Jane Austen novel reminds us of the severe limitations society placed on females of genteel birth in her era. About their only honorable option was to become some gentleman’s wife. Although the men had a far better lot in general, their choices were also very restricted.

“It has been, and is, and probably will always be a heavy misfortune to me that I have had no necessary business to engage me, no profession to give me employment or afford me any thing like independence … I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. The law was allowed to be genteel enough; many young men who had chambers in the Temple, made a very good appearance in the first circles, and drove about town in very knowing gigs.” (Sense and Sensibility)

As Edward Ferras outlines for us above, if a young gentleman needed an occupation, he could go into the church, the army, or the law. Those were the three standard choices. You could add banking to the short list if your daddy happened to own one.

“But,” you say, “I thought the mark of a gentleman was having no profession.”

Well, not exactly. Younger sons absolutely needed a profession; unless they were lucky enough to marry a fortune, they had to earn their living. The eldest son would, of course, inherit the family estate when his father died, giving him income and occupation thereafter. But what was he to do in the meantime? Too much free time got more than one heir apparent into trouble. Edward, in hindsight, recognized that his foolish involvement with Lucy Steele sprang from his idleness. And Thomas Bertram (Mansfield Park) gambled his father’s money away while waiting to come into his property.

Wickham2Better give that boy something to do! Joining the clergy was acceptable, but not stylish. A military life held more prestige, but also more danger (Napoleon and all). So, perhaps the law? Fine, but then he must be a swanky London barrister, and not (heaven forbid!) a humble country attorney like Lizzy’s uncle Phillips in Pride and Prejudice, who was considered one of her “low connections.”

To become a lawyer didn’t involve the years of intense study and rigorous exams you might imagine. One had to first acquire a standard degree (from Oxford, Cambridge, or Trinity), which hardly required breaking a sweat, before moving on to “study” at one of London’s Inns of Court (Temple, as mentioned by Edward, for example). There his progress was measured according to how often he dined on the premises (I’m not kidding) rather than by successfully completing courses. What a student actually learned during his “terms” was largely left up to him. If he paid attention in court and read the recommended books, he might come away with some level of competency to go along with his certificate. If not… well?

tom lefroy law studentAlthough I’m no expert, from what I’ve read, the haphazard education of lawyers seems only a symptom of a much larger malaise afflicting the legal system that existed at the time. Jo Walker (heroine of my book For Myself Alone) has this to say about it:

“The quality of Mr. Gerber’s advice notwithstanding, I come away from my first encounter with the legal system scarcely less ignorant than when I began. The little which I could understand, however, appears to contradict the very few notions I had entertained on the matter before. As it turns out, the law has only a nodding acquaintance with justice and an even more tenuous association with common sense.”

(Extra credit if you can identify and place the JA quote within this SW quote.)

So what will it be, gentlemen – the law, the church, or a military life? Aren’t we glad we all, women as well as men, have more freedom of choice now!

Posted in English Regency culture, History, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Title Search

ShakespheareWhat’s in a name? No, wait, that’s Shakespeare. Wrong author! I’m supposed to be channeling Jane Austen! Let me try again.

“…But there is nobleness in the name of Edmund.  It is a name of heroism and renown – of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections.”  (Mansfield Park, chapter 22)

Fanny Price imbues her beloved Edmund’s name with more latent significance than most of us would, but we at least consider the meanings in the Baby Name Book before deciding what moniker our children will be saddled with for life.

Authors give nearly as much thought to what to title their latest ‘darling child’ before sending it out into the world. It should be something catchy and memorable. It also should give the reader some clue as to what to expect inside the cover.

I actually have a lot of fun with titles, especially chapter titles or names for blog posts, where less is at stake. It tickles me when I can use a fancy word: Elucidation (used as a chapter title in not one but two of my books). I’m a fan of alliteration too, like Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility), as evidenced by these chapter titles among others: Sisterly Society, Richard Returns, Wardrobe Woes, Demands of Duty, Company Coming.  I’m not above borrowing a famous phrase now and then: The Play is the Thing, Miles to Go, Teacher Know Thyself, A Tale of Two Movies. And if I can incorporate an inside joke or some double meaning, so much the better: chapter titles Taken For a Ride and Bump in the Road apply literally as well as figuratively. “Persuasion” in my title The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen refers both to her novel and the fact that she herself was persuaded to give up the man she wanted. Even the title of this blog post has more than one meaning.

I may be outdoing myself on this new book, though (see work-in-progress ). I’m only eight chapters in and I’ve already got some delightful chapter titles, imho. Here they are: Light Dawns, Making Jambalaya, A Day at Disneyland, Possibilities and Perplexities, The Dearly Departing, A Two-Horse Race, Tie Breaker, Going for Broke.

The bigger challenge, however, is coming up with a title for the book itself.

Since it will be part of a series (see Crossroads Collection), I’d love to do something clever with all the titles, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.). I thought of copying the idea, only using First, Second, Third, etc. in each of the successive titles instead of One, Two, Three. Using the word “Leap” in each title would be another way to go. Appropriate, too, since the first one is already tentatively titled Leap of Faith and all will involve time travel. Or I could abandon using a theme word and title each one individually, in which case this new book may end up being called Pemberley or Bust!

Northanger Abbey coverI guess I’m not the only one who has struggled with indecisiveness in this area. Jane Austen changed the titles to at least three of her books before publication. First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice. Elinor and Maryanne became Sense and SensibilityNorthanger Abbey underwent the most transformations. Austen originally called it Susan, after the heroine. Then she changed not only the title of the novel but the heroine’s name to Catherine to avoid confusion with another book that had come out. It was ultimately published as Northanger Abbey after her death.

As for the titles of my upcoming novels (I hope to publish the first two in the series together later this year), I still have time to make up my mind. But I’d love to hear your opinions and brilliant suggestions on the subject! Themed or independent titles? Leap of Faith and Pemberley or Bust? Or propose something of your own.


3/28/16 Update:  After more thought and some reader feedback, I think I’m going to go with the idea of using the word “leap” in all the titles in this series. “Leap of Faith” for the first one, as planned, and maybe “Leap of Hope” for the second, allowing the subtitle and the cover design to supply more information as to what each of the books is about. I might even change the name of the heroine of the second from Katie to Hope to match the title. What do you think?

Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Zombie Date Night

P&P&ZI don’t really intend my blog to turn into a movie review site, but there has been more than the usual amount of activity in the period movie arena lately, begging some kind of response. (See previous post for my thoughts on Far From the Madding Crowd and Unleashing Mr. Darcy.) Most recently, we have the much delayed debut of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I can hardly allow such a thing to pass without comment, can I?

I know I said I didn’t plan to go see it. And I meant it at the time. I read the book years ago, not because I thought I would enjoy it (zombies not being my thing at all), but because I felt I needed to keep up with what was going on in my corner of the literary world – specifically Jane Austen Fan Fiction. My reaction to the book:

  • intriguing concept (for the first few chapters)
  • quick and easy way to write a book, when someone else has already written 3/4 of it for you (at least Seth Grahame-Smith rightly gave Jane Austen top billing)
  • novelty quickly wears thin and then the concept is unsustainable

P&P&ZbookI shouldn’t admit my other thought at the time, which was, “Darn! Why didn’t I come up with the idea first?” I wouldn’t really have been interested in spending that much time thinking and writing about zombies, but I wouldn’t mind the paychecks associated with the franchise.

At any rate, one serving of zombies was quite enough for me, I decided. No need to see the movie version of P&P&Z.

That is, until it came out. I began hearing some pretty positive comments, and I was forced to reconsidered. Perhaps I should be more open minded and not prejudge. Perhaps it would be right (my duty, even) to support with my ticket purchase any company willing to risk millions producing a film paying tribute, however irreverently, to Jane Austen. After all, no one will make more Austenesque movies (The Darcys of Pemberley, I might suggest) if those already made lose money.

The deciding factor in the end was my husband saying he thought we should go see it together. Eureka! Date night!

In general, our tastes in movies cover very little common ground. My husband’s extensive private collection is mostly sci-fi, action, and adventure – lots of gun battles, car chases, and explosions, always with the fate of the entire world (or even the universe) hanging in the balance. By contrast, my more modestly sized collection heavily features romantic comedies, period dramas, and all things Austen. Finally, with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, we had a movie that combined our interests into one. The basics of the timeless love story are still there, just with the escalated stakes and swordplay of a horror movie.

So we went; we watched; we both enjoyed. Even laughed out loud in spots. It turned out to be more campy fun than graphic gruesomeness. And the story made better sense than in the book, from what I can remember. This may be one of those rare occasions when the movie actually improves on the novel on which it’s based. Or maybe it helped that it only had to hold my attention for two hours, not twelve. Overall, though, I’d give it a B. The jury is still out on whether P&P&Z will earn a spot in his/mine/our home movie collection.

  • Weak point: a less-than-swoon-worthy Mr. Darcy
  • Highlight: a decidedly different take on Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzy

tP&P&Zillustration“Do you think any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, for Elizabeth presently attacked with a series of kicks, forcing him to counter with the drunken washwoman defense. She spoke as they battled: “I have every reason in the world to think ill of you…” (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

What say you? Have you seen it or plan to? Laughed out loud or hated it? I fear in this case there is very little middle ground.



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A Tale of Two Movies

20160130_130803_resizedI watched two new movies this past week – first the Hallmark Channel’s Unleashing Mr. Darcy and then, a couple of days later, I rented the recently released version of Far From the Madding Crowd.

I had looked forward to seeing them both. So few films are made for my particular demographic. “Mature women of refined taste and sensibilities” are largely neglected by Hollywood, it seems. But now I had not one but two excellent prospects, each looking like it would be right up my alley! I hoped to like them so well that they would both soon find places of honor, filed alphabetically in my permanent video library. (See related post: My Movie Picks)

As it turns out, though, one of the two will make the cut and the other won’t.

unleashing Mr. DarcyLet’s begin with Unleashing Mr. Darcya modern day take on Pride and Prejudice set in New York against the backdrop of elite dog shows and a posh country estate. Here’s the blurb:

Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby), is fishing for direction in her life and gets the opportunity to professionally show her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a fancy New York dog show. Dog show judge Donovan Darcy (Ryan Paevey) comes across as aristocratic and rude and a chain of misunderstandings unfold during the competition, complicating their mutual attraction. In true Jane Austen fashion, Elizabeth and Donovan begin to see the error of their ways and it turns out Mr. Darcy is far more kind and interesting than Elizabeth ever imagined.

All the pieces were seemingly in place: rich and handsome but rather snobby guy, cute and spunky girl who’s a bit too outspoken for her own good, and counterparts for all the other P&P characters as well (Darcy’s sweet little sis, horrid aunt, and a Miss Bingley styled rival for Elizabeth). Unfortunately, the whole thing fell kind of flat, at least for me.

This was a typical Hallmark Channel production – no better and no worse than the rest.

You would think Hallmark movies were made just for me, since I’m all about romance and happy endings – Hallmark’s stock and trade. So it’s hard to explain why I’m not a big fan. Maybe it’s the same reason I don’t much care for standard “romance” novels. The formulaic, low-budget, mass-produced nature of both tends to result in less original, lower quality fare. Makes it difficult to sink my whole heart into the story and fall in love.

far from the madding crowdFar From the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel of the same name, resides at the other end of the spectrum in so many respects. It’s clear no expense was spared in any department, from the well-written script, to the top-drawer cast, beautiful sets, costumes, locations, and wonderful cinematography. Here’s the blurb:

The story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Mattias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching willfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love – as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance.

I know that Thomas Hardy stories don’t always end well, but this one does, fulfilling one of my very basic requirements. And the movie does a good job sticking to the book in essentials. Apparently, the film’s producers didn’t feel the need to pointlessly “improve” on a story that has stood the test of time. Hooray!

20160126_223320_resizedAnyway, I watched Far From the Madding Crowd twice before being forced to return it. Now it’s at the top of my wish list for what my husband or sister can get me for my birthday in a few weeks. I can hardly wait to file it in the F section of my collection between The Family Man and Father Goose!

I guess the way I feel about these two movies also reflects my philosophy about my own writing. I would much rather produce one book per year to suit myself than to be obligated by contract to crank out one every four months to suit somebody else. Other authors may be entirely capable of maintaining quality under those circumstances; I could not.

I have a pretty good model in Jane Austen of striving for quality over quantity. As much as we might wish she had left us more, wouldn’t we all rather have her six wonderfully written novels than a whole slew of books we could not care for?

God willing, I will complete my sixth novel this year and hopefully a few more after that. I’m not likely ever to become rich or famous, though, and I’m okay with that. Like Catherine Morland below, I am content. I am perfectly satisfied with my share of public attention.

She was looked at, however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she immediately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it before – her humble vanity was contented – she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good humour with everybody, and perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention. (chapter 2, Northanger Abbey)


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