Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, May 23 2016 01:00PM

Since its initial release two weeks ago, Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s new film adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan, has been getting so much critical love (for instance, here, here and here) that I have barely been able to restrain my eagerness to see it.

Living in the ‘burbs, as I do, I have had no choice but to relearn the virtue of patience. And at last, said virtue will be rewarded: Our local art house cinema will start showing Love and Friendship – the first-ever screen adaptation of this lesser-known gem of a novella -- this coming weekend.

Needless to say, I will be first in line.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 12 2016 01:00PM

Excited as I am to see Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s new film adaptation of Lady Susan, I’ve been more than a little skeptical of the spinoff novel he’s published to accompany the movie. Because Jane Austen already wrote that book, and it’s pretty darn hilarious.

The currently fashionable talk of Lady Susan’s “unfinished” quality ignores the fact that it is, in fact, finished: the fates of all its characters are resolved, albeit in a somewhat rushed, non-epistolary addendum to the epistolary narrative. The best ending Jane Austen ever wrote? No. But unfinished? Also no.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny that Stillman had a point when he suggested in a recent New York Times interview that Austen would likely have heavily revised Lady Susan had she intended to publish it. “The things she did in the same period, they started out epistolary, and then she shifted them to the dramatized novels that we know,” Stillman pointed out.

This tendency is already evident in Lady Susan itself: as the book progresses, each letter includes longer and longer passages of dialogue and dramatized action, implausibly recounted from memory by the letter-writer. It’s as if the living, breathing body of the story is beginning to press against the form into which Austen has corseted it.

Lady Susan has already inspired one clever and well-written non-epistolary fanfic – Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by the mother-daughter team of Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – which manages the neat trick of retaining virtually all of Jane Austen’s plot while making the title character sympathetic (and not in a she’s-so-bad-she’s-good kind of way).

Stillman’s novel apparently takes a different tack, inventing a new character, Rufus, who narrates the story in a self-important voice while prosecuting a pro-Lady Susan agenda. “In the appendix,” a recent story in the Los Angeles Daily News explains, “readers will find the full text of Lady Susan, along with annotations by Rufus discrediting many of the forty-one letters that make up Austen’s novella. . . . until 'Letter 15,' after which Rufus decides he’s not going to dignify the text with any more responses.”

OK, I’ll admit it. That sounds like it could be kind of fun.

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 28 2016 01:00PM

We fans of Jane Austen movie adaptations have had kind of a dry spell for the last few years.

We’ve watched poor Sally Hawkins gallop through the streets of Bath, in the travesty that was the 2007 Persuasion. We’ve goggled at the utterly miscast cleavage of Billie Piper in the 2007 Mansfield Park. We’ve endured Austenland, survived Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (OK, I admit I haven’t actually seen that one yet – waiting for the DVD), and sat through – God help us – Unleashing Mr. Darcy.

So I think we really deserve to have Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, the first-ever screen adaptation of Lady Susan, be excellent. Early reviews out of the Sundance Film Festival (for instance, here) have been very positive, and now comes this trailer.

Squee! Looks ve-e-ry promising! Dry spell may be over!

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 5 2015 02:00PM

Best Jane Austen news of the week (at least potentially): Shooting is about to start on director Whit Stillman’s movie of Lady Susan, starring Kate Beckinsale as the predatory Lady Susan Vernon, Chloe Sevigny as her poisonous friend Alicia Johnson, and Stephen Fry as Alicia’s hapless older husband.

The project has inexplicably been called Love & Friendship, presumably to mess with the heads of Janeites knowledgeable enough to recognize a juvenilia title when they see it. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first filmed dramatization of Austen’s novella, which itself is sui generis in her oeuvre: her only substantial epistolary story, and the only story whose protagonist is a villain. Seldom, very seldom, do we get a truly brand new Austen project, and I for one am pretty excited.

Whit Stillman is a director I have mixed feelings about. I very much enjoyed Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan (which some people seem to think is a Mansfield Park update, though I don’t really agree), but I’m still mourning the ninety-nine minutes of my life spent watching the relentlessly whimsical, pretty much intolerable Damsels in Distress.

At his best, Stillman is a great deadpan observer of Species WASP. At his worst, he’s. . . pretty much intolerable. Here’s hoping that Austen brings out his best.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 22 2014 01:00PM

Holy scheduling conflict, Batman!

Just a couple of short-ish train rides from my home, a delightful-sounding Janeite event will take place next month: a reading of a new one-act comedy by Lynn Marie Macy called “Carlton House, Jane Austen and the Prince Regent.”

Macy is a playwright, actor and director with a Janeite bent. At the 2010 JASNA AGM, during a panel on the glories of Henry Tilney, she read the Catherine Morland part in a scene or two from her Northanger Abbey adaptation. Macy has also adapted Lady Susan and written a Christmas play about Jane Austen’s family.

Macy’s new play will apparently take us to the well-documented day in 1815 when James Stanier Clark, the Prince Regent’s librarian, gave Austen a tour of Carlton House, the Prince’s London home.

That visit gave rise to a short, hilarious correspondence between the pompous, self-satisfied librarian and the slyly witty novelist, who soon after accepted Clark’s offer-you-can’t-refuse suggestion that she dedicate Emma to his royal employer.

It’s great material for a play, and I’m crushed that this performance is being held precisely when I can’t attend: the same weekend as this year’s JASNA AGM in Montreal. I’ll just have to cross my fingers for a future off-off-Broadway production. Meanwhile, if you’re a New York-area Janeite who makes it to the show, do post a review in the Comments!

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