Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 21 2020 01:00PM

We Janeites love our Jane Austen movies. Can’t get enough of ‘em! Want more! And more! Or so you’d conclude from recent news:


* Plans for a big-screen Persuasion, word of which first surfaced last month, seem to be proceeding nicely: The Australian actress Sarah Snook, recently nominated for an Emmy for the HBO business dramedy Succession, has reportedly been cast as Anne Elliot. There’s plenty of time for the project to fall apart – remember that big-screen Sanditon, starring Charlotte Rampling? – but in the meantime, we can entertain ourselves by casting our fantasy Wentworths.


* This year’s Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, was canceled because. . . well, you know. But a local production company with the delightful name of Bonnetland hopes to interest a broadcaster in a six-part mini-series set during the festival. Early next month, the team will film a ten-minute pilot in Bath, and they’re looking for Janeites with their own Regency costumes to feature as extras.


The storyline is vague – “two characters on their humorous journey throughout the day" – but the extras seem likely to have a good time even if the series isn’t picked up. Says a spokeswoman, "This is a great opportunity to be involved in a lighthearted and fun project for all those missing out on the festival this year." Which is all of us.


* The irrepressible #SanditonSisterhood are not giving up on their quest for a second season of the much-hyped-but-not-successful-enough TV series based on the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. A year after ITV launched the show by commissioning a giant billboard mural in the seaside town of Bournemouth, fans who have spent months protesting the broadcaster’s decision to leave Sanditon’s star-crossed lovers dangling for all eternity arranged a public art project of their own.


Last week, on the sands of Bristol, where the show was filmed, artist Simon Beck created a giant portrait of protagonists Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker, captioned “Who will #SaveSanditon?” Alas for the fans, who crowdfunded Beck’s fee, the answer so far seems to be “no one”: a feeler earlier this summer from Amazon Prime Video’s UK branch has so far come to nothing. But that’s not likely to deter a band of intrepid, and adaptation-hungry, Janeites.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 14 2020 01:00PM

Fifty-sixth in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen's letters.


The letter that the 28-year-old Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 216 years ago today (#39 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence) is dated from Lyme, where the Austen family was spending a late-summer holiday.


For fans of Austen’s novels, that dateline, and the echoes of Persuasion that it summons, may be the most notable thing about this letter: Although we know that the Austens spent two holidays in the seaside village, in 1803 and 1804, this is the only letter that survives from either visit.


The letter provides a kaleidoscopic, slightly mordant glimpse of the social scene that Cassandra had recently left behind, as she journeyed to spend time with family friend Martha Lloyd and her ailing mother.


Miss Bonham, Austen writes, is recovering from an illness but “tho’ she is now well enough to walk abroad, she is still very tall & does not come to the Rooms.” The relations of an Irish viscount are “bold, queerlooking people, just fit to be Quality at Lyme.” (Ouch!) A throwaway mention of a tradesman called Anning—Richard Anning, cabinetmaker and carpenter? Austen doesn’t say--conjures up tantalizing visions of an unrecorded meeting between two great nineteenth-century women: Jane Austen unwittingly crossing paths with Anning’s then-five-year-old daughter, Mary, the future paleontologist.


But my favorite passage in the letter describes a morning visit to a Miss Armstrong, which had revealed that “[l]ike other young Ladies she is considerably genteeler then her Parents; Mrs Armstrong sat darning a p[ai]r of Stockings the whole of my visit,” Jane tells Cassandra. “But I do not mention this at home, lest a warning should act as an example.”


Given that the Austens' own mother was not only a clever woman seeking to marry her daughters off advantageously but also a distant relation of a duke, it seems unlikely that Jane seriously worried that she would take up stocking-mending in company. No, to me this reads like a private joke between sisters: Parents! Aren’t they embarrassing?


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 10 2020 01:00PM

I haven’t set foot in a movie theater in five months. (March 7. Multiplex up the road from here. The new adaptation of Emma, a pretty good way to go out.) This is certainly the longest cinematic drought in my adult life. Television is all well and good, but I crave the big screen like a desert wanderer craves an oasis.


Perhaps that’s why I perked up so unreasonably at the tiny scrap of Jane Austen news thrown our way last month when the UK film magazine Screen Daily published an interview with a British director/playwright/screenwriter named Jessica Swale. Most of the story was about Swale’s newly released film Summerland and her life under pandemic lockdown.


But tucked into the introductory paragraphs, never to be discussed again, was this factoid: “She is also working on a feature version of Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn for Studiocanal and Jane Austen’s Persuasion for Fox Searchlight.”


What? The desert traveler glimpses the oasis! Is it for real. . . or just another mirage?


Longbourn, you will recall, was a much-praised 2013 novel that told the story of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the Bennet family’s servants. Movie talk was in the air almost from the get-go, and the projected film has had a skeletal IMDB listing since 2017, but the project has never progressed much further. Unless perhaps it has! Please tell us more!


And what’s all this about a new version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion? We already know about the forthcoming update, A Modern Persuasion, which transplants the story to contemporary (presumably pre-pandemic) New York, but this sounds like a new adaptation of the original. Squee!


No doubt you will point out that if the screenwriter is still at work, neither of these films is likely to appear for at least a couple of years, by which time going to the movies will (please, God!) once again seem like a routine pastime, rather than a distant, shimmering, Emerald City-type fantasy. Meanwhile, however, I’m going to enjoy imagining that I’ve arrived at the oasis.


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 3 2020 09:00AM

The proliferation of face masks in every conceivable style, color, fabric, and design is either an encouraging sign of inexhaustible human creativity and entrepreneurship, or a really depressing indicator of how long the coronavirus is likely to be with us.


By now, it’s possible to buy luxury face masks in pastel-colored silk, or Disney Princess-themed face masks for small children, or slightly creepy face masks featuring your favorite breed of dog. So it should come as no surprise that if you’re looking for a Jane Austen-themed face mask, your choices are practically infinite.


A small sampling:


* Jane Austen quotes: The first line of Pride and Prejudice, the first line of Wentworth’s letter, the best line from Love and Freindship . . . But how will anyone read all this from six feet away?


Or perhaps you would prefer a quote that’s been ripped out of context? Step right up!


Or a misattributed movie quote? Yes, indeed! And again!


* Book cover: The famous 1894 peacock edition of Pride and Prejudice? Right here, on your face, in purple. Or in blue!


* Images of Austen: No, of course it probably doesn’t look like her, but whatever!


* Sanditon fan? They’ve got you covered. Plus a backup.


* Janeite pride: “Jane Austen Rocks”? Well, duh!


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 22 2020 01:00PM

For many of us, coronavirus quarantine has proved to be the perfect moment to reread Jane Austen. (Although, really, is there ever a bad moment to reread Jane Austen?) Just in case the novels themselves haven’t imbued your days with enough of that old-time Regency feeling, however, the internet has recently suggested some ways to bring a Janeite flavor to the activities that have been filling the hours for so many of us. Herewith, a roundup:


* Homeschooling: Students in a business law class at Toronto’s Ryerson University can enhance their studying with a set of online review materials at the Course Hero website. Relevant for our purposes: the sad tale of Carlos, a rare-books dealer who arranges to buy Yasmeen’s first edition of Pride and Prejudice for $20,000, only to have her renege on the deal in hopes of seeing the book’s value increase over time.


Budding lawyers may be most concerned about which multiple-choice answer most accurately calculates the damages Carlos could recover in a breach-of-contract lawsuit. We Janeites will simply congratulate Yasmeen on realizing that these days, a P&P first edition could be worth a lot more than $20,000 – and, in any case, is priceless.


* Movie-viewing: Quarantine brought us an early chance to watch the latest film adaptation of Emma on our home screens. Coming soon, if we’re lucky: another Jane Austen movie!


Two years ago, when word of Modern Persuasion first surfaced, I had my doubts about the viability of this version, which stars Alicia Witt in a “contemporary tale about a New York workaholic whose firm is hired by an old flame.” I still have those doubts, but four months without setting foot in a movie theater have left me ready (well, even readier than usual) to watch anything – including this rom-com, which just acquired a distributor and is screening this week at the Cannes Film Festival’s virtual market. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t arrive on my screen quickly enough.


* Game-playing: Tired of Scrabble, Boggle, Clue and cards? Luckily, the Jane Austen Summer Program – the academic-except-more-fun-than-that sympoisum usually, but not this year, held in mid-June at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – has an alternative: Find Mr. Darcy, or at least a life-size Colin Firth cutout, which is the next best thing.


In essence, the game is a mildly entertaining online Austen trivia quiz that won’t pose much challenge to any knowledgeable Janeite. But it does give you the chance to hopscotch around a map of England while ogling still photos of attractive actors from Austen screen adaptations. Beats another round of Crazy Eights.


* Drinking: In the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, health experts agree that bars remain risky venues. The only solution? Keep drinking at home. In a recent feature pairing cocktail recipes with literary classics, South Sound, a lifestyle magazine covering southwest Washington State, recommends accompanying a reading of Emma with a “flirtatious and fruity" pink cocktail consisting of white wine, pisco, lime juice, and raspberry syrup. I would have thought Donwell Abbey strawberries a more appropriate choice for Emma, but I guess these days we can't afford to be picky.


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