Monthly Archives: April 2008

Palpable Discomfort in Austen’s Prose

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Anne Elliot from Andrew Davies' Adaptation 

          “Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match. …” He said it, she knew, to be contradicted. His bright proud eye spoke the conviction that he was nice; and Anne Elliot was not out of his thoughts, when he more seriously described the woman he should wish to meet with. “A strong mind, with sweetness of manner,” made the first and the last of the description.
          “That is the woman I want,” said he.”

          I am so very much taken by the conclusion to the seventh chapter from Jane’s Persuasion, when, with so many pages turned in anticipation of their meeting, Anne Elliot caught, finally,  “half an eye” belonging to the Captain Wentworth: just one half-glance in a crowded room stiffed by niceties and Good Society.
          And it is, I think, effortless to empathize; to have, individually, been squeezed – as if juiced – into a place (that couldn’t-be-smaller regardless) with another during a time so completely inopportune …, a moment rounding-out an awkward and, God forbid, intimate parting – to be butterflied, tight-chested, and retracting into oneself: so becoming dimunitive in Presence if only because one had never been quite properly taught to disappear.
          This congested reacquaintance is just a smear of rouge. When it is over, it has since thinned and given shape and made clear so Anne might breathe again, – saying “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over.”
         Captain W. and AE
           She learns soon afterward of what Capt. Wentworth said to Henrietta (and meant never to reach her), that “she was so much altered to be unrecognizable” since their courtship, and this long  after her first “bloom of youth.” It had been but a handful of days when it was announced that Capt. W. had come a-roving; Anne was allowed less than a week to cope with the memory of an engagement, still vivid, and yet poignantly aware of the eight years spent: she is eight years older and eight years too late.
          But he was only acting off an old hurt!, one deep down – bone-deep – and he but uttered a preventative out of earshot to salve himself – sparing her; rather, to spare the real her and wound just the effigy of her memory, her totem, to ward off the spirit he was haunted by.

          As a rapt reader I grit my teeth and breathe-in deep and I shut the book and seethe a little; the problem with Free Indirect Discourse is that I am the narrator, and I am Captain Wentworth, and I am Anne Elliot (and I am all my parallel experiences) – and I am fucked; I shall snarl and spit in bad company, and I will for the time being refuse the Musgroves. Of course, I could remedy this by turning the page, but I shan’t waste away with gossip and letters.

 

Mine is Strength and Lust and Power!

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… there will come of a surety, sooner or later, either sickness or the sword; fire shall consume you or the floods swallow you up. Be it bite of blade or brandished spear, or odious age, or the eyes’ clear beam grown dull and leaden. Come in what shape it may, death will subdue even you, you hero of war.” – King Hrothgar to Beowulf [featuring my liberally substituted ‘yous’ for ‘thous’].

Just before I ventured into the Disconnect, I emptied my ship of its weight: I threw slag to the roil, some else to my barrow for when I return; I took but books and clothes, one of which I’d thought lost once in the sty and I happened to find after I’d rid of the rest: my comic – nay, graphic novel – adaptation of Beowulf! Drawn and written by Gareth Hinds, my copy was bought on impulse from the children’s section. Since, I’ve flipped through it a number of times, but always somewhat whimsically without the weathered eye.

I honor Beowulf; I am fascinated with him and it. I suffer Englisc to read aloud Hwaet!, We gar-dena in geardagum, þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon, hu ða aeþelingas ellen fremedon! and snort and snarl and war-trill my R’s. There is no other barrow in Geatland (southern Sweden) than their doom-gloried champion’s. So, when I saw it in the children’s section – which was then as is now peculiar, given how outright graphic and gorriffic Hinds’ paintings – I couldn’t resist, even if I was there to belatedly give Rowling’s First a try.

And his vision is spot-on. Every panel is meticulously detailed, including FUTHARC chiseled into the wood-paneling of Heorot, to the marrow tufts in broken bone. Battles toil epically through multiple pages with neither narration nor dialogue, and – most impressively, to me – there is never a nighttime sky lacking constellations.

https://i2.wp.com/www.chromecow.com/wp-content/graphics/Main/beowulf_1.jpg

Through art I can think of no better way to communicate the rife, pervasive otherworld of the Old World War-Ethic: the fixed (albeit chaotic) bigger-picture against which all life and quarrel and joy in the impermanent foreground is foreplay. Hinds never draws attention to it. Characters never speak of anything much beyond the plot-at-present, and “God” in their speech is as hollow as “the” – much as it is in any Beowulf, manuscript or adaptation, other than Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman’s script-to-the-Zemeckis’s-movie that wonderfully portrays the startling pre-Christian orature penned by a monk-scribe as Hrothgar’s world in cultural transition. Instead, you see in the art the importance of story-keeping and -making etched into the heavens.

That is to say, the visuals drive Beowulf this time around. Hinds begins

For this edition, the author and editors have prepared a new text, based on the translation b A. J. Church published by Seeley & Co. in 1904. This is a colloquial translation, and we have attempted to strike a balance between easy readability and the poetic drama found in our favorite verse translations (particularly that of Francis Gummere, which appeared in the original, self-published edition of this book).

meaning the dialogue and narrative is occasionally stilted, what with the artificially archaic (and pretty darn out of place) “thees” and “thous” and “thys” – especially in bizarre sentences any Dane would blush at, like Art thou that Beowulf who contended with Breca in swimming on the open sea? ‘Twas indeed foolhardy. Guffaw.

And somewhat relatedly, while the book is certainly pretty fat, I’d wager that all the dialogue and narrative might be collected in a few panels. The consequent problem is that it tells only the cursory Sparknotes plot, which – as they say with Jane Austen that you just can’t read for ‘plot’ because you’ll always end up with a wedding – makes Beowulf rather hollow. Of course, now every Beowulf-that-has-been and Beowulf-yet-to-come must stand against the downright almost-perfect Zemeckis adaptation and the Heaney translation, both of which are thick with emotion and the raw between-the-lines stuff that’s mana for any twenty-first century reader.

Midnight Blahggery in Georgia

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I am en route through Georgia and punched toward a destination in the plainslands that is disconnected. While this preludes abundantly more journal musings and stray never-concluded poetry, it means there may be a hiccough here in my blogging routine both here and in my Jack’s Alley livejournal. At the moment I am shacked up in a surprisingly pretty, hilltop Super-Eight, where the water hangs in the air in snapshot and suspended by the heat. I have listened thrice now to the late Charlton Heston reading “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Seamus Heaney reading his translation of Beowulf, then cycled through the BBC Radio Play of Jane Austen’s Emma.

I was inspired by Ellen Moody’s bloggering to re-read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, which makes me a little lovesick for my boxed-up library. I learned about Jane Austen in Vermont from Ms. Place and wonder some about Florida’s Austenolatry. I got in touch with Amy Robinson from the Gainsville JASNA chapter that looks surprisingly more active and accessible than my old Michigan love – and best yet: the next get-together is on Sanditon: I maintain that DA Miller’s Berkeley smug got in the way of his reading of it in The Secret of Style, calling Sanditon the “death of the stylothete” and in need of a “brisk salt rub.” For soothe.

Neil Gaiman thought it’d be fun to start posting some Introductions he’d written in the past on his blog, and this one‘s for Joe Sanders’ collection of academic papers about The Sandman called The Sandman Papers.

Once you’ve written something it’s not yours any longer: it belongs to other people, and they all have opinions about it, and every single one of those opinions is as correct as that of the author – more so, perhaps. Because those people have read the work as something perfectly new, and, barring amnesia, an author is never going to be able to do that. There will be too many ghost-versions of the story in the way, and besides, the author cannot read it for the first time, wondering what happens next, comparing it to the other things that he or she has read.

I began Daybookery as a place for my readerly and writerly oriented thoughts because my growing-up pals from my Jack’s Alley were very much unenthused and bored (although I like to think they enjoyed my Harry Potter and the Phallic Symbols musing), and here I am just blogging about other blogs. Mine is more of a blahg!

At now midnight-thirty it’s time I pack-up my laptop and hit the road to Atlanta – although I could use another nap. It’s this heat, I swear; air conditioning seems never-cold-enough. What’s worse, the vending machine returned my twenty-five cents as a nickel and a dime – what kind of backwoods hole-in-the-wall is this?

A Better Sense for Sens … Wait, Hold On —

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          My thoughts on the second part of Davies’ Sense & Sensibility, aired finally tonight nine-ish, can pretty readily be summarized with Ooooops! Having packed, moved, stored, and cleaned all day, fueled by a sliver of cookie dough and a bowl of cereal, I–even though I was so very much looking forward to the conclusion of this adaptation–fell asleep on the couch. While I think I was up in time for the last thirty minutes, my room-mate already had picked up my slack and turned the channel. For several moments I watched groggily some mid-nineties’ Alice in Wonderland.

          So …, I guess I really don’t have anything to blog about. Instead, Ellen Moody–whom I have had the pleasure of citing in numerous papers under tremendous stress!–guest-blogged on Jane Austen Today, and I will edit this post with other links as the bloggers finish up their thoughts (rife with spoilers!) on the S&S08 conclusion – which, of course, I can’t read. Argh!

Handwritten Stuff

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          I, reader, seriously dig mail – but not too much that gunk I pick through in the mornings (hotmail porn and Facebook messages). Rather, I am every day sorely disappointed when there is no personalized letter or postcard-from-godknowswhere. I’ll shrug the bills and magazines for a thirty-five-cent stamped Hello.

My Journal          Albeit slower than sin and watermarked, whatever’s scrawled means more than some daily bloggery my Gray Fairy opts to download and any comment or e-mail any stranger or friend (no matter how important) can drum out. This is because there is some physicality to it all: someone has to put ink to paper and lick a stamp and drop it off and wait-and-wait-and-wait for a reply – and, of course, wondering whether it will make its destination, and never knowing for sure if gone unconfirmed or unacknowledged or, worse, unreturned.

          Granted, epistolarity is a little artificial and performative. One must adhere to atleast some recognizable format and focus on readability, moreso than what we can nowadays do by rote keyboarding. I shudder to think that the near invisibility of the medium is like a clearer window into our inner thoughts, what with drivel like Hehehehehehehe! But I suppose you trade bluntstuff for the meaning of the effort put into mail-sailing.

          And most importantly, just as it was in the eighteenth century when the epistolary novel was gaining steam, in a world wherein the lines of ownership and legal rights are blurred by redundant law and digital distribution, a handwritten note is the one tangible scrap of your inner stuff. Discourse nerds might marr your scribble by showing you through your word-choice your deep-seated social influences – but fuckem: if not original, then its Authentic. Sharing inked scratch and spit is truer conversation than an instant message, and somehow safer to express what’s deep-down without fretting about your stammer and your hair.

A Better Sense for Sensibility

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Elinor and MarianneMy nightly livejournal skim took me, just now, thirty-three minutes. I note this because I’m somewhat surprised (and amused) with the abundance of just sheer stuff – specifically: gardening, language, and tattoo things. This includes, of course, eye-dissecting my friend Justin’s interview with the band Curtains–spellcheck buddy–and gawking at the fine new ink posted to the public. Is Sunday a popular day to be tattooed?

          I watched Andrew Davies’ new adaptation of Sense & Sensibility [Part One] featured on tonight’s Masterpiece Theater, and owe him kudos. This one–in my opinion–far superior to the 1995 S&S featuring Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. These two names I underscore because, while I am fascinated with Alan Rickman and attracted to Emma Thompson (something school-teachery about her), Kate W.’s eye-rolling–and I mean this in the worst way: not sarcastic disapproval, but worked-up crazed racehorse eye-rolling–flit and Hugh Grant’s lack of personality (in every feasible situation, professionally and candidly) impressed on me a preference for blindness.

          Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan are the wonderfully cast Miss Dashwoods, as is Dan Stevens as Edward (compared to Hugh!), although I miss Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon.

          The movie opened with some hot-and-heavy, though, which caught me a bit off-guard. And while some of the Austen bloggers (like Ms. Place) kindly tolerate its presence, I think on some level the scene is kind of cynically appropriate. Although, if you catch right off the bat that one of the pair of lips belongs to Mr. Willoughby, I wonder whether that might clue the UnAustenware that he is, as Ms. Place said, a cad and not a romantic hero. That’s the case anyway, but his appearance in the book is setup to make him appear dashing for the longest time. If viewers see it’s Mr. W. initially, then it upsets Austen’s intention to lure readers to his side. A lot can be said about the participatory reader in an Austen novel, of course, but I’ll leave that for later.

          However, as it is indeed Mr. Willoughby and Eliza (Colonel Brandon’s neice/ward, whose mother he tragically loves, thus remaining alone well into middle-age), and because this scene is followed immediately and darkly by the true S&S opening spectacle of the death of Mr. Dashwood, it throws into moral contrast this steamy affair in the primarily economic Regency family dynamic:

  • The Estate, by law, is entailed in whole to the eldest male heir: once a moderately wealthy man has his first boy, he can no longer do what he likes to his property because, inherently, it belongs to the son. The women of the family are completely dependent on this male heir (as is illustrated in S&S) and have very little of their own — this is why there is so much pressure on marrying.
  • Marrying means financial stability – not just for the daughter, but for her unmarried siblings and (if such is the case) widowed mother. Marrying poorly means that the family’s place in society diminishes, but one also cannot wait too long lest she become undesirable.
  • Becoming undesirable, say by getting knocked up (or doing the knocking, as Mr. Willoughby is disinherited once this is made known to his benefactress), is a pretty staunch financial fuck-up with family-wide consequences.

The way Davies juxtaposed unbridled passion with what looked like a pretty miserable death sets the tone for the story, which arguably is looking for balance between soap-operatic sensibility and the purely business-oriented wrongs of the family (sense).

Laurel Ann’s at Austenprose is my favorite review, and she otherwise sums it up for me. The male characters (except for Edward) aren’t as subtle as Austen’s: Mr. Willoughby’s purpose as the faux-romantic hero is reamed because of the opening sex scene and his hair-grease, and Colonel Brandon is a snore.

Byron[ic] [&] Mr. W. in S&S08

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Hrm. I copied the following from my Livejournal, and it appears a bit off; I’ll happily accept that cost if it’s that easy to copy a little something-something. Maybe I’ll figure out how to import next.

   
Laurel Ann blogged this morning about Sense & Sensibility’s Mr. Willoughby’s Byronishness. During part one of S&S08 I made the remark to Molly that it is peculiar and appropriate for Mr. W. to ask Marianne whether she was familiar with Lord Byron – she knew the name, by the way, but hadn’t read any works. It sort of fascinates me he’s mentioned in the present because, as the crowned Romantic–capital R–prince, Lord B. in the familiar seems somehow sacrilegious. This is a little like saying that Beowulf was effeminate (which I actually said in my twenty-ought-six writeup “Gendering Beowulf”) and warrants a double-take. After all, ain’t Lord B. an Olympian?

But Lord B. was Jane Austen’s contemporary–and he was mad, bad, and dangerous to know – as you know–in literary adolescence when Mr. W. quotes “She Walks in Beauty” from memory (he’s one of those) to woo that sixteen-year-old girl. This was in 1811; one-hundred-ninety-seven years later I suspect Marianne would wear a piercing in her lip and her bangs dyed black. White rebel suburban teens get it bad for Byron, you know, and it makes sense that Marianne was easy prey to this: her family might have lost the mansion with its entailment, but their [seashore] cottage was goodly sized, and no one was by any means going hungry. Sheltered, young, fatherless, and strained by the restrained example of her sister Elinor, what she knew about adventure was–like Austen–through Tom Jones or Lovelace: Romanticized, romanticized, and Northanger.

In terms of Romantic sensibility, if Wordsworth et al. exemplified the dewey-eyed appreciation of flora and the smells of morning, then Byron was at awe in the dark. This Yin-and-Yang is a pretty good way to think about it, because while there is probably some fay-like virtue of the pastoral, the dangerous side to a connection with nature is the threat of becoming bestial. Remember that before there was a royal Lord Byron there was a Mad Jack.

Tall-dark-and-handsome Mr. Willoughby–refer to my last S&S08 thread about the problem with unrestrained passion–then strikingly appropriately invokes Byron, showing also that his knowledge of a thing like poetry isn’t confined to old libraries (“to be admired” he says about Alexaner Pope, then shuts the book for good), but he is immersed in the contemporary elitist literary snobbery.

He is proud and well-educated, runs with the moral-fringe of society (Byron/Shelley-admirers), and thus dangerous to the rigid status quo of Regency society – the society that filled the ranks of the clergy (second sons, who didn’t inherit an estate, went to God [third sons went to War]); it’s worth noting, then, that Byron/Shelley etc. are, considered as a subgroup of the Romantics, “Satanic:” not because they worshipped the Devil, but because they were so far left of the moral right. William Blake was the big daddy (re: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).