Yesterday, Diana Birchall posted the following link for the BBC documentary, The Many Lovers of Jane Austen, which has not been shown in the US, but can be seen here:
I replied thusly:
Thanks, Diana! I watched it with my father (who had great trouble, as usual, with understanding the English accents), and I have the following comments about it:
1. Overall, the program had high entertainment value, but was mixed to unimpressive in terms of the intelligence of the commentary about Jane Austen. For purposes of giving Jane Austen wider exposure in the culture, I would say the program was a great success, it will bring in many new readers for Jane Austen, and that is always a good thing.
2. Vickery's intent clearly was to try to get past "dear sweet Aunt Jane", and that of course is a very good intention, but, not surprising, there was often an uncritical acceptance of the standard orthodoxy about Jane Austen. To give one of several examples, a scholar named Lucasta Miller missed the boat entirely, by voicing the usual platitudes about Charlotte Bronte finding JA passionless---Vickery was not about to interview an iconoclast like Jocelyn Harris (forget about her reading _my_ blog!) to air a contrarian view on that subject.
3. Vickery raised one of the great questions of Austenmania---how is it that JA has managed the incredible double-dip of wide appeal among the culture-friendly general public, and also wide intellectual appeal for the literati--but Vickery hasn't a clue as to the real answer to that question--which is that JA intended to appeal to both, and wrote her novels to work on multiple levels, including (as Harding famously and acidly put it) writing the novels so as to be enjoyed by the very people being satirized and criticized on that deeper, less accessible level.
4. Vickery also read Henry Tilney's rant about England as a Christian country, as evidence that Northanger Abbey was merely a satire of Gothic novels, and thereby revealed that she was utterly ignorant of the large body of work, including mine, that shows that Northanger Abbey is, on a deeper level, an anti-parody critique of male privilege--but Vickery was not going there, not even close, for all her clothing herself in the guise of a debunker.
5. Bravo to Prof. John Mullan for pointing out that JA did not publish anonymously because she was so modest, but instead that JA actually enjoyed the guessing game she generated by publishing as "A Lady"---and I would go further and claim that JA intended to generate that guessing game in the first place!
6. Katherine Sutherland had a lot of screen time, and thankfully she did not repeat any of her absurd claims about JA needing an editor.
7. The history of how Austenmania arose was generally pretty good, but of course Vickery was not going to mention DW Harding and the revolution he engendered in Austen studies in the middle of the 20th century. Instead, Vickery took the standard orthodox line that FR Leavis was the most influential figure in Austen studies in that era.
8. All the film versions of P&P were briefly displayed, including a rare one I had not heard of, a 1967 BBC production.
9. There's an interesting interview with Earl Spencer, of course the brother of the late Princess Di, who shows himself to be quite the intelligent Janeite.
7. Several JASNA friends in the program, including a wonderful brief interview of the amazing Cheryl Kinney, who ad libs the funniest line in the whole program. And I realized one of the many parts I love about Cheryl's public speaking--not only does she know her material cold, and have a wonderfully insightful, witty style of writing and speaking--she also sounds _exactly_ like Roz from Frasier, which is the perfect voice to deliver that excellent content!
8. My friend Joan Reynolds of Vancouver made a few brief dancing cameos, and finally, and most interesting to me, take note of the gentleman who appears for a few seconds at precisely 38 minutes and 39-43 seconds into the video.
For those not technically inclined, I include a still image above.
So despite all my above quibbles, this is a wonderful video to show your non-Janeite friends and family, to try to pique their interest!
A lovely bit of praise from my youngest (at heart) supporter in Seattle:
[The 80-ish Mary Watson of the Puget Sound chapter commenting on the 2010 JASNA AGM]
"...Two sessions were outstanding: Juliet McMasters on the more subtle, deeper meanings of "Northanger Abbey" and a Darcy-like young lawyer, Arnie Perlstein, who revealed his very plausible theory that the "shadow story" behind much of Jane Austen's work is the horror of multiple childbirth and women's deaths. I am a Jane-Austen-as-feminist person and this really resonated with me!"
Thank you, Mary!
"Arnie's theories [about Austen and Shakespeare] may strain credulity, but so much the greater his triumph if they turn out to have persuasive force after they are properly presented and maturely considered. That is what publication is all about"
"When great or unexpected events fall out upon the stage of this sublunary world—the mind of man, which is an inquisitive kind of a substance, naturally takes a flight behind the scenes to see what is the cause and first spring of them."--Tristram Shandy
I'm a 63 year old independent scholar (still) working on a book project about the SHADOW STORIES of Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays). I first read Austen in 1995, an American male real estate lawyer, i.e., a Janeite outsider. I therefore never "learned" that there was no secret subtext in her novels. All I did was to closely read and reread her novels, while participating in stimulating online group readings. Then, in 2002, I whimsically wondered whether Willoughby stalked Marianne Dashwood and staged their “accidental” meeting. I retraced his steps, followed the textual “bread crumbs”, and verified my hunch. I've since made numerous similar discoveries about offstage scheming by various characters. In hindsight, it was my luck not only to be a lawyer, but also a lifelong solver of NY Times and other difficult American crossword puzzles. These both trained me to spot complex patterns based on fragmentary data, to interpret cryptic clues of all kinds, and, above all, not to give up until I’ve completed the puzzle--and literary sleuthing Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays) is, bar none, the best puzzle solving in the world!