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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Whit Stillman & “the right Jane Austens”



Four months ago….
… I posted about the upcoming Whit Stillman film adaptation of Jane Austen’s last completed work prior to her six published novels—the novella Lady Susan. My parting observation was: “I hope the full-bore sociopathy of Lady Susan is faithfully preserved by the cleverly subversive Whit Stillman. And I am looking forward to seeing it, with cautious optimism.”

Consider this post today a cautionary update. In my Google alert today, I read a short article in which  Stillman was recently quoted as making the following weighty pronouncement on Jane Austen's novels:

"I came late to Jane Austen. I read the wrong novel when I was in college, which was Northanger Abbey. I thought it was terrible. In Northanger Abbey, there are really two things happening: One, there's a typical Jane Austen story about characters involved in romantic situations, and maybe they're funny and maybe they're being mocked. And then you get into this tiresome parody of Gothic novels, which I don't particularly like because I don't particularly like Gothic novels. But I read the right Jane Austens after college and liked them all."

I am afraid this verdict on Northanger Abbey does not bode well for his directing of the new version of Lady Susan (bizarrely entitled Love & Friendship, which of course is the title of a different late-juvenilia story by JA). 

While anybody could initially misread a Jane Austen novel so badly and uninsightfully while in college—after all, Northanger Abbey in particular leads its unwary readers down a garden path of underestimation —its narrator spends so much time saying what Catherine is not, that most Janeites also (misguidedly) believe that NA is somehow a poor cousin of the other five Austen novels.

For examples of the hidden subtleties of Northanger Abbey, check out this sampling of posts of mine from the past several years, about the deadly serious anti-parody about the domestic everyday Gothic "horror" of everyday English marriage:

 http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/04/opening-pandoras-royal-box-at-abbey-in.html

 http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/01/byrne-portrait-two-abbeys-their-awful.html
http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2013/09/samuel-morland-general-tilney-from.html

But…for a fully grownup Stillman, a creative writer himself who has chosen to adapt a work of fiction by JA, to still have this same idea about NA decades later---and not even to have bothered, in the interim, to read up a little on NA's sophisticated, multilayered satire, both parody and anti-parody all in one----does not speak well of the sharpness of Stillman's ear for JA's infinitely subtle irony.

I guess we'll all see the result when Stillman's new film comes out, and perhaps we can still hope against hope that he ends up taking a more imaginative approach to Lady Susan (renamed Love and Friendship).

Cheers, Arnie
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


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