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Archive for the ‘Literary Links’ Category

Peter Pan

Short-story Thursdays recently supplied a pair of short stories by J. M. Barrie (“A Powerful Drug” and “The Inconsiderate Waiter”). I enjoyed both, especially the latter, which is funny and charming and ultimately heart-warming.

Barrie’s whimsical writing, buoyant and sly, both cynical and not (this last insight borrowed from another SST reader), is a delight. He lets his characters show themselves, which is a writerly gift (exemplified by Jane Austen) that cannot be over-praised. So many authors pound away at their material, deadening the senses with their heavy-handed pronouncements and creaking plot machinery (sadly I’m thinking of the book I am currently reading, or enduring, “The Emperor of Ocean Park.”) In any case, thinking of Barrie got me thinking of Peter Pan and my favorite quote therein:

“What’s your name?’ he asked.
‘Wendy Moira Angela Darling,’ she replied with some satisfaction. ‘What is your name?’
‘Peter Pan.’
She was already sure that he must be Peter, but it did seem a comparatively short name.
‘Is that all?’
‘Yes,’ he said rather sharply. He felt for the first time that it was a shortish name.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Wendy Moira Angela.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Peter gulped.
She asked where he lived.
‘Second to the right,’ said Peter, ‘and then straight on till morning.’
‘What a funny address!’
Peter had a sinking feeling. For the first time he felt that perhaps it was a funny address.

It makes me sad that children don’t read Peter Pan anymore, thanks to Disney, I guess.

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When I first moved to Lowell about 20 years ago, I got interested in Jack Kerouac and was intrigued by a reference in “On the Road” to a book by Eugene Sue entitled “The Mysteries of Paris.” I often thought I should find the book and read it, but, in those pre-internet days, never did track it down.  Recently, while (finally) reading “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman, I was reminded of this long-ago impulse when I read that Eugene V. Debs was named after two authors (Sue and Victor Hugo). I decided to do some googling and learned that Sue’s novel, serialized in 90 parts from 1842 to 1843, had been so popular it had spawned a “city mysteries” genre.  The article added that Michael Chabon had written a book in 1988 as a tribute these works.  At is happens, that book, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is sitting, as yet unread, but highly anticipated, on my nightstand, purchased after listening to and thoroughly enjoying “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” For some reason,  I didn’t draw a connection between the two titles until the Tuchman reference started me thinking of the earlier work. I immediately opened up and started enjoying “Pittsburgh” and may yet get around to “Paris.”

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Life of Jane

So, I was also dreading Miss Austen Regrets, the most recent of the PBS series “The Complete Jane Austen.”  I was afraid it would be simplistic and reductive, overemphasizing early flirtations and making overt connections between her life and the novels, like the recent movie Becoming Jane.  However, it was nothing of the kind.  By dealing with her final three years, they showed her at the height of her creative powers (finishing Emma and working on Persuasion) and settled in the life of a spinster with her mother and sister.  Her relationship with Cassandra is beautifully done (although I never heard that Cassandra persauded Jane not to marry Harris Bigg-Withers).  I also like the allusions to doctors and seaside treatments that inform her unfinished work, Sanditon (would have been a masterpiece, I’m sure).   Alas, her career was perfect in being much too short!

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MP – I liked it!

I was dreading this version of Mansfield Park (aired on “Masterpiece” on Sunday, January 27), but it was good. What a relief.  I was thinking it was impossible to do a good job with MP because so many people (not me!) dislike Fanny Price.  In Patricia Rozema’s 1999 version, she conflates Fanny’s character with that of Jane Austen and departs radically from the themes of the book.  I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t Mansfield Park.  The current version retains the bones of the story but cheats by making Fanny much more winning – she is athletic, spirited and lively while still remaining in the lightly-drawn, yet subservient role of Fanny.  Aunt Norris is so diminished as to make very little impression, while Lady Bertram’s part is kindly augmented to give her a modicum of sense and foresight.  Once I adjusted to Fanny’s vibrancy, the casting was pretty well done.  The Crawfords are especially good, and the scenes of them together give a sense of their relationship and their values.  I don’t remember much about the 1983 BBC version, but it would be fun to check it out and make comparisons; I get the feeling they were more true to Fanny’s character, which can seem sanctimonious and priggish, than the more recent versions.   In my years of reading and rereading of Austen’s books, MP, like Fanny Price’s standing at Mansfield Park, has risen steadily in my estimation.  

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Thankfully the new adaptation of Northanger Abbey was done by Andrew Davies who hits all the right notes.  Admittedly, this book has not been adapted as much as the others, so there is nothing stellar to compare against, but he makes excellent use of Austen’s own dialogue (not every director is able to do this), adroitly showing the humor in the characters and situations, and the casting is great – Felicity Jones is perfect as Catherine, pretty, innocent and lively with a bit of spirit.  J.J. Feild does justice to Henry Tilney (one of the best of Austen’s heroes!).  Just looking at the previews for Mansfield Park has me filled with dread – that blonde, pouty girl to play Fanny Price! 

To see more about the PBS productions of all of Austen’s works, visit http://www.wgbh.org/article?item_id=3792119.  You can also take the Austen Quiz – I got 100%! (Nitpicking:  they have Sir John Middleton as Sir John Littleton in the quiz ).

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Persuasion – ouch!

I hated the new version of Persuasion, which aired on PBS last week  as Masterpiece Theatre becomes “Masterpiece Classics” and an all-Jane Austen slate of programs is kicked off.  Sally Hawkins is no Amanda Root, who played Anne in the 1995 movie version. She has a slumping, shuffling way of walking, gapes constantly like a fish out of water and in no way conveys Anne Eliot’s character, self-reliance or elegance.    I guess there would be no point in making a new version that didn’t try something different, but why amputate Wentworth’s letter to Anne from her moving speech to Harville that occasions it? Without his having overheard Anne say that all she claims for women is the power of “loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone,” his passionate, almost involuntary response by letter — “You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever” — loses all impact.  The very climax of the book is taken away and replaced with idiotic scenes of Anne running here and there across Bath in search of him. And the ending showing Wentworth and Anne arriving back at Kellynch Hall which he has purchased for her as a wedding gift, is just wrong.  Austen revered the navy, two of her brothers were in the navy and one of the themes of Persuasion is how much better this new class of self-made men are than the landed gentry represented by Sir Walter.  To put the newlyweds in Kellynch at the end, rather than on board a ship as in the book, is simply ridiculous.  That said, the character of Sir Walter was well played and resulted in the best scenes in the movie.  Next up on Masterpiece, Northanger Abbey.

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Audio Austen

While on a roadtrip to Virginia (11 1/2 hours with minimal stops), I listened to an audio version of Sense and Sensibility, read by Nadia May (Blackstone Audiobooks; 2000).  At first I thought her voice was too strident, but that impression evaporated almost immediately.  She does a fine job with the different voices, crucial with Austen which is very dialogue-heavy, and you always know who is speaking.  She did two favorite characters, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton, to perfection. 

While I have read all of Austen’s books many, many times and seen every film adaptation, I had never listened to them, but now that I have heard one, I must hear them all.  The exquisitely chosen language rewards the ear with every speech and phrase. It is a true delight, and one does not have to quarrel with casting or director’s choices of which scenes to leave in or take out as with a movie. 

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