Jane Austen’s Portsmouth And the Dynamics of the Price Family

JASNA-StLouis-Fall-Program-MansfieldPark-Portsmouth-PhyllisThorpe-TobyBenis

Your Fall Program presenters were Phyllis Thorpe (L) and Toby Benis (R) – both JASNA-St. Louis members.

At the Saturday, Sept. 26, meeting of the St. Louis Metropolitan Region, Jane Austen Society of North America, members and guests experienced not one but two insightful presentations concerning Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park.

The presentations were offered by members Phyllis Thorpe and Toby Benis.

Last year, at JASNA’s Montreal AGM, Phyllis participated in a panel discussion, “Mansfield Park Pathologies,” moderated by past JASNA president and University of Colorado scholar and professor emeritus Joan Klingel Ray. Phyllis’ subject was “Fanny Price: the Lost Child in an Alcoholic Family.” On Sept. 26, Phyllis reprised her presentation before Toby’s exploration of the city of Portsmouth and its civic and military history.

With help from volunteers, who participated in a tableau, Phyllis explored the dynamics of the Fanny’s large family and the role each member played in it. (Fanny’s role: invisible child.) With an alcoholic father whose only interest seemed to be reading the navy news and visiting the dockyard, his family was left to its own devices. The result was a noisy, chaotic household with a mother often at wit’s end.

Thanks also go out to Phyllis’ partner, Dr. Andrei Laszlo, who was her able assistant, helping the tableau “come to life.” The tableau offered a perfect lead-in for Toby’s reflections on “Jane Austen’s Portsmouth.”

Fanny’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, had sent Fanny back to her family in Portsmouth as punishment for not consenting to marry young, rich Henry Crawford. Sir Thomas hoped that a re-acquaintance with the noise, poverty, and disorder of the Price household would make Fanny realize what she could have with Henry.

Toby, a professor of English at Saint Louis University, reminded her listeners that most of Austen’s novels are set in the bucolic countryside—think rolling hills, picturesque villages, and quaint farms—not in a congested, dirty, urban environment. With the use of period maps and quotes from Edward Daniel Clark, a Georgian clergyman, naturalist, travel writer, and contemporary of Austen, Toby highlighted the background of Portsmouth and explained its importance as a city and a navy base, especially during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815).

Portsmouth, Toby said, was called the Key of England because of its enormous strategic importance. Yet its civic boosters envisioned it as a spa town also, she added, but despite its coastal location and the new craze for seaside spas, Portsmouth was, in the eyes of many, not a sufficiently healthy environment for R&R. It lay low on the coast, with backwaters and ditches creating “bad air.” It was awash in soldiers, marines, sailors, and dockyard workers. Its bars were always full (and overpriced, according to contemporary accounts) and the area was considered damp and “aguish.” Fanny, at age 10, leaving such an environment to live at Mansfield Park, is deemed in poor health. Her cousins, by comparison, exhibit a healthy glow and are pictured as advanced for their age.

Fanny, as a near-adult returning to Portsmouth, finds herself banished to an unhealthy environment and an unpleasant situation concerning space, sound, and air. Her living quarters in the Price house are cramped; there is constant noise; and the house is disorganized and never tidy. She misses the order and gentility of Mansfield Park and, not surprisingly, grows despondent.

Yet now on her own, but also having benefited from Edmund’s influence, Fanny grows up while confined to Portsmouth and her parents’ household. She makes a space upstairs for herself and her sister Susan to read and contemplate, and she helps create some order downstairs (e.g., the silver knife episode).

Finally, in discussing Portsmouth—as well as Fanny and Edmund—Toby highlighted one of the “evangelical” themes of Mansfield Park, pointing out the difference for evangelical advocates between the city (Portsmouth) and the village (Mansfield Park). In the novel, Edmund observes that the city dilutes the efficacy of the clergyman because his parishioners cannot observe his behavior. He believes strongly that a clergyman should lead by example and that he should know his people and his community, and this is best accomplished in an environment where a clergyman is in daily contact with his parishioners, i.e., in the country. Fanny, in Portsmouth, comes to imitate Edmund’s preferred clerical conduct by initiating a well-regulated home.

Toby noted that from an evangelical perspective, Fanny’s evolution in Portsmouth highlights the influence of women in the home by illustrating her sense of obligation and gratitude, her devotion to duty, and her help in the shaping of Susan’s character.

Toby’s presentation was not only informative about Portsmouth and the setting for the chapters about Portsmouth in Mansfield Park, but also about how much Fanny grew and matured during her sojourn in Portsmouth. You might say the plan that Fanny’s Uncle Thomas concocted to bring Fanny to her senses served its purpose, but not in the way he anticipated. Also, one can see why the novel is often called an evangelical novel, or a novel of morals.

The two presentations fit together, hand in glove; they certainly precipitated some stimulating conversation afterward. One member wrote in an e-mail, “I thought the talks were wonderful, and I so enjoyed the conversation after. [I am] looking forward to participating more.”

Another wrote, “This afternoon’s JASNA meeting was just wonderful. I learned so much. It really adds depth to the novel to have this background.”

As both Phyllis and Toby noted, one can find something new each time Mansfield Park is read.

It would have been interesting to see how Austen continued to evolve as a writer had she lived longer.

 

 

 

To Forgive is Divine – and Practical, Too

JaneAustenSilhouetteRobert Mai, a local member of the Metropolitan St. Louis Region of the Jane Austen Society of America, has written an article that is published on Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal On-Line.

Robert Mai is a principal in Stakeholder Insights, an opinion research firm in St. Louis.  He teaches courses in managing people at the Brown School at Washington University, and is the author of The Leader as Communicator (AMACOM).  He has earned degrees in English from Columbia and the University of Rochester.

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Bob has recently published an article in Persuasions On-Line (Winter 2014) titled “To Forgive is Divine – and Practical, Too.”  It’s about a special skill exhibited by Jane Austen’s heroines (mostly), and can be summarized by this quote from the article:

The real accomplishment of Austen heroines is not just securing a husband but also strengthening the goodwill embodied in those communities where they will live as married couples.  The strategy that accomplishes these positive ends is forgiveness,  which is also the subject of some compelling new research emanating from the fields of evolutionary psychology and behavioral economics.

Bob has been reading Jane Austen with pleasure since undergraduate days at Columbia.  He is currently musing over other examples of how Austen heroines exhibit highly regarded contemporary character traits like resilience, action-orientation, empathy, and speaking truth to power.  He is thinking about how to write a Jane Austen management book that might be read by more than his immediate family.

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol35no1/mai.html

In Memoriam


 

Our national organization reports, via the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, that Austen fans have lost another author and long-time advocate of Jane Austen. Marie Dobbs made an interesting life for herself and penned other works besides her 1975 completion of Sanditon, as her Telegraph obituary indicates:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11790472/Marie-Dobbs-author-obituary.html

Last month, the Telegraph also marked the passing of Austen scholar Irene Collins, perhaps best known for her book, Jane Austen and the Clergy (1994):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11753737/Irene-Collins-historian-obituary.html

Some years ago, Jane Austen and the Clergy was the topic at one of our summer luncheon meetings, held that year at the Chatillon-DeMenil House.

 

Revisiting the A&E/BBC’s 1995 P&P

Finally, on a lighter note, if you need an excuse to skip over to England in the next few weeks, here is the perfect reason for making the trip, courtesy of the Basingstoke Gazette:

http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/leisure/general/13582167.Selected_cast_and_director_of_1995_BBC_Pride_and_Prejudice_to_attend_Chawton_conference/?ref=fbshr

For more information about the the library’s Sept. 5 presentation, “BBC Pride and Prejudice 1995: Reflections Around a Much-Loved Production,”  visit the Chawton House Library’s website,

www.chawtonhouse.org, or simply click on this link for a program agenda: www.chawtonhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/ProgrammePP3.pdf

Among the presenters Sept. 5, our own Devoney Looser (a.k.a., Stone Cold Jane Austen, www.devoneylooser.com/roller-derby.html). Now with Arizona State University, Devoney’s topic will be “Playing Mr. Darcy, from Archery to Wet Shirts.”

Also, you may recall that Chawton House Library founder Sandy Lerner was our 2012 Birthday Luncheon guest.

And speaking of topics, this is a good time to remind everyone that our next JASNA Metropolitan St. Louis Region meeting is Sept. 26 at the University City Public Library. Dr. Toby Benis, of Saint Louis University’s College of Arts and Sciences and a fellow region member, will speak on “Jane Austen’s Portsmouth.” The 2 p.m. presentation is open to the public; so please invite your family and friends. The library is located at 6701 Delmar Blvd., University City, Mo. We’ll see you then.

 

 

Kara Louise: How She Came to Writing and Jane Austen and Where It Led


Kara Louise's novel Darcy's Voyage - program presentation at Jane Austen Society in St. Louis

Darcy’s Voyage – Kara Louise

On June 6, members of the St. Louis Region of JASNA and their guests congregated at the lovely home of member Bettye Dew to enjoy one of her delectable luncheons and then a delightful presentation by author Kara Louise. Ms. Louise (her pen name) recounted the story of her exploration of writing; from one line in fourth grade (as a reaction to a painting) to three pages of a story many years later to three chapters inspired by genealogy research even later. That was where it seemed to end.

Then in 2001 she discovered the writings of Jane Austen. Through the six-hour miniseries and the novel of Pride and Prejudice, Louise was finally inspired to really write. Soon she was reading the Penguin edition of Pride and Prejudice and reading more of Austen’s novels and watching the accompanying films. She also discovered online the many Pride and Prejudice sequels (of course, not by Austen).

Kara Louise also researched online sites and decided to write, not sequels, but as she calls them, variations on Pride and Prejudice. She is fascinated with the characters and wants to write stories from their points of view and to put them in different situations.

This has led to several Darcy and Elizabeth stories, several which begin with Elizabeth’s refusal of Darcy’s proposal during their meeting at Rosings. She states that her books have no order or sequence, instead they are independent stories. In Darcy’s Voyage the two meet crossing the ocean. That was inspired by the story of the Jeanie Johnston (a ship famous for no loss of lives in its voyages) and Two Years before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. That research also inspired Pirates and Prejudice.

Even so, some research can lead to dead ends or closed doors, as when Kara Louise wanted to use deafness and sign language in a story but found that sign language had not yet been invented in England during the time period of her novel. This has not deterred Kara Louise who has used Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, Patricia Meyer Spacks, editor, and the novels of Georgette Heyer for further research. These have inspired stories involving other characters of Austen’s such as Anne de Bourgh and Harriet Smith.

What is ahead for Kara Louise? Well, she is certainly far from finished.   She has started an Emma – inspired story revolving around Harriet Smith and is very interested in one based on Persuasion. All this interested attendees who had read some of her novels while others were ready to do so. One such attendee, a librarian, could not believe she had no titles by Kara Louise at her library and was sure to remedy that situation.

Kara Louise shared several of her favorite research sites with attendees. And who knows, some may have suddenly become bitten by the writing bug. After all, as she pointed out, information leads to inspiration.

Kara Louise’s novels are mostly self-published with two that were picked up by Source books. You can find them at her website: http://www.karalouise.net/

 


 

Assessing Belle

 
(Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2014)
 

Last Thursday, May 8, several JANSA-StL members, ourselves included, attended a preview of the new costume drama Belle at Plaza Frontenac. Just released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Belle, as you may know already, is set in Georgian England and is based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1769 – 1804), the illegitimate, biracial daughter of Admiral Sir john Lindsey (1737 – 1788), who was raised as part of the family of Lindsey’s uncle, William Murray (1705 – 1793), first earl of Mansfield and Britain’s “Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench” from 1756 – 1788.

British actress Gugo Mbatha-Raw (center) stars as Belle in the new movie of the same name. In the foreground is Canadian actress Sarah Gordon, who plays Bell’s half-cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

British actress Gugo Mbatha-Raw (center) stars as Belle in the new movie of the same name. In the foreground is Canadian actress Sarah Gordon, who plays Bell’s half-cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

As you might expect of a British costume drama, Belle is well done: good acting; sumptuous costumes and sets; attractive, multidimensional characters; and an engaging story that, incidentally, offers not a little food for thought as it reflects both on Dido’s complex, contradictory status in 18th-century society and in her adoptive family, and on Murray’s pivotal role in several important cases relating to slavery and the slave trade. (In the movie, readers of Austen will detect familiar allusions to the “governess trade” and the “marriage trade” as well … and they may wonder what influenced Austen to name her third published novel Mansfield Park.)

Elsewhere you can find more formal reviews of the movie and more in-depth reflections on its creation and the real-life characters it depicts. (The production notes for the movie run to 48 pages; so reviewers have an abundance of background material from which to choose in preparing their reviews.) We can only say that, for us, Belle offered two hours well spent.

A final observation: Stephanie Merry, in her favorable Washington Post review, noted that Belle gives fans of romantic period drama something to tide them over until the next Jane Austen adaptation. That’s true, of course, but Belle is a bit more than that, as we’ve noted: It stands on its own as a good movie and good entertainment. Enough said.

—Jim Heine & Rose Marie Nester

[cryout-button-color url=”http://www.jasna-stl.org/2014/05/30/at-google-director-amma-asante-talks-about-her-movie-belle/” color=”#47AFFF”]See Amma Asante talk about her movie Belle on Google.[/cryout-button-color]

 


 


Report on Mansfield Park Readings, presented March 29, 2014



On Saturday, March 29, 2014, St. Louis Region Janeites and guests from around the St. Louis area congregated at the Tavern of Fine Arts for lunch and readings of their favorite scenes from Mansfield Park.  As with our Pride and Prejudice event last year, The Tavern of Fine Arts offered a special cocktail for the occasion: “the Mansfield Park.”

James Heine, Rose Nester, Rhoda Richmond, Jennifer Darnell, Lynette McFarland, Miranda Miller, Andromeda Williams, and Shirley Bassett read selections from Mansfield Park.

Because Mansfield Park is one of the most controversial novels of Jane Austen, comments from her family and friends collected by Jane Austen were also read.  The readings themselves gave a glimpse into the world of Fanny Price, her cousins, visitors to the park, and her family in Portsmouth.

Some attendees brought their books and were willing to read a selection too, if time allowed.

Miranda Miller and Andromeda Williams attended in beautiful Regency costumes, adding greatly to their readings.  They also gave a description of how the costumes are made and the undergarments that are part of the costume.  It certainly gives one a new appreciation for what women wore during that time period, as compared to the freedom and ease of clothes today. It was later discovered their guest, Toya Huston, designed Andromeda’s costume.    

Everyone showed a great understanding of Mansfield Park with each of their readings.
Some comments:

“…a wonderful job of organizing the nice event today. I really enjoyed my first visit to the Tavern. My food was very good…  Service very nice… And, of course, the readings – I loved them, and I admire anyone who does public speaking. …the acoustics are good. The podium was charming.”



Jayme Blandford, a literature teacher from St. Charles Community College, was a first-time attendee and is excited to do more.  She is presenting a paper at the Popular Culture Association Conference in Chicago in April regarding the film Austenland.  The paper’s title is “Austenland: The Modern Janeite’s Fantasy Come to Film.”

    Many were interested in repeating this event for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma.

In preparation for the March meeting Sheila Hwang, a professor from Webster University, and Regional Coordinator Rose Nester were interviewed for the KDHX program “Literature for the Halibut,” which you can find at the following link:  http://kdhx.fm/archives/archive_gen.php?show=literatureforthehalibut .  The link will be available until April 7, 2014.