Jane Austen’s thought provoking Gothic parody novel Northanger Abbey featured in September, with an enjoyable discussion after watching an engaging film adaptation of the novel, available here from YouTube.
Meg is in Dublin as the newsletter goes to press, however plans to be back for the October session. The film Persuasion; discussion of both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and a summing up of the group’s experiences of Jane Austen and her works are included on Meg’s course agenda for October and November.
Our film of Jane Austen's novel Emma was a well produced British version worth watching as it summarises the love triangles of this group of middle class country residents. No minor nobility in this novel - the rich arrivistes are here occupying some of the large old estates and concerned about potential marriage partners.
The action is muddied by 17 year old Emma, who fancies herself as a matchmaker and gets all her attempted matches wrong due to her juvenile attitude and self centred ways.
Emma dissuades Harriet Smith from marrying Robert Martin, a successful farmer but "not a gentleman" and instead tries to match her with the local parson, who wants to marry Emma - or any woman with a large dowry. Emma falls for Frank Churchill, a wealthy young man under the thumb of his rich aunt. He is secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax, a talented musician and young lady without a dowry of whom his aunt would disapprove. After being rebuffed by Churchill, Emma finally falls for Mt Knightly, a rich landowner in the district who has known Emma since she was a baby, is around 20 years her senior and throughout the novel tries to give her advice about how she should behave in a more mature way.
Eventually Harriet, Emma and Jane marry their appropriate partners.
Witty dialogue, gorgeous costumes and historical settings make this film a pleasure to watch.
Next session: We will be watching films of one of the last of Austen’s books, Northanger Abbey, on Tuesday 12th September at 2pm. An excellent British production of under 2 hours length, it will fit into one session. Anyone who is not enrolled in the course is also invited to join us to watch Northanger Abbey on the big screen in the U3A room.
This month we finished watching the last three episodes of Mansfield Park produced by the BBC. Well, almost finished, as time ran out before we could see the last of the series. Not to worry, most of us had dipped into the book and knew that the cousins, Edmund and Fanny, eventually got married, while Henry Crawford and his sister Mary had their hopes of love dashed even though they were a lively pair and somewhat unconventional and ahead of their times.
Was Fanny too harsh in rejecting Henry Crawford when he proposed? Afterall, she had only seen him kissing her cousin Maria, an engaged girl, when they were rehearsing a play. Still back in the 1820s such behaviour could never be tolerated by some of the insular members of the country gentry, even though times were changing.
We will conclude by watching films of the last two of Austen’s books: Emma in August and Northanger Abbey in September. These are both excellent British productions of under 2 hours length and each will fit into one session. Anyone who is not enrolled in the course is also invited to come along and watch these films on the big screen in the U3A room.
In Mansfield Park we began to see Austen exploring some changes affecting the rigid social behaviours of the Regency Period. Mary and Henry Crawford from London move into the small social world of the Bertrams and Fanny Price their niece, bringing with them more individualistic social and personal behaviours. Both are wealthy and reject the social expectations of this country group. Mary falls in love with Edmund Bertram but rejects him when he won’t give up becoming a local minister. Henry tries to seduce both Maria Bertram, an engaged lady, and also Fanny Price, an innocent eighteen-year old who is really in love with her cousin Edmund. Both the Crawford siblings eventually fail in the complex courting games they play with the Bertram family and fail to marry the people they most love. Even so, the Crawfords are the most lively of the characters and presage the more relaxed conventions that the Regency period will embrace. Meanwhile, Fanny and her cousin Edmund, both represent a world that will rapidly vanish.
We watched half of the BBC TV version of the book and enjoyed the lavish costumes, grand houses and interiors. July - 'Mansfield Park' (continued)
The Jane Austen Book Club watched the film version of Pride and Prejudice in May. Although it omitted a lot of nuances from the book, it was an enjoyable watch.
In June we will be discussing Mansfield Park and watching excerpts from the film. Austen starts to dissect some new behaviours that are beginning to break down the strict rules of her social class.
At our April session we finished watching the film Sense and Sensibility and discussed the similarities and differences in these two books drafted much earlier but revised together during Austen’s later creative period.
Austen explores the difficulties of choosing a life partner in these two novels. Women without dowries were almost unmarriageable and formed the larger part of governesses and companions in middle class households. Younger sons too, who did not inherit the larger part of a family estate had to search for a woman with a substantial dowry that could keep them both as a first priority for financial survival. Dowries of £30,000 enabled the pair to buy an estate and create an income for themselves.
While Austen celebrates the pairs in these novels who were able to marry for love, she doesn’t deride those who chose a marriage of convenience and suggests that some of her characters made a good showing of their choices.
Next month we will watch the film of Pride and Prejudice and conclude our look at this novel.
At our March session we discussed Austen’s timeline for writing the six novels. She had two periods of intense creativity and work: firstly writing drafts of what later became Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey between 1795 – 98. Then again nine years later , between 1810 – 1817, when she wrote the final versions of her three drafts and the three new novels Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.
We discussed the characters in Sense and Sensibility and how they mirrored some of the “Pseudo Gentry” she had lived with at Steventon when she was a girl. The book explores the social responsibilities of finding a life partner and marriage for men and women of those times and that class. Some were cheated and abandoned, others matured and had more tolerable marriages. It was all about money, grand estates and dowries. Love was an afterthought.
We watched the first half of the 1995 film of the novel, sumptuously produced, including Hugh Grant as Colonel Branson, Emma Thompson as Elinor and Greg Wise as the perfidious Willoughby. A romantic comedy version that excluded the satire and sharp observations of the novel. Worth watching though.
April : We will finish watching the film and start our discussion of Pride and Prejudice.
Meg Dillon convenor.
Our introductory session looked at both Georgian/Regency society 1780 – 1820, and Jane Austen’s life.
Austen grew up within a changing social group of the County Gentry, a group of old rural squires but now, also rich newcomers renting or buying country properties, but with few understandings of how this county squirarchy had behaved for generations. Of the dozen or so local families that the Austen family visited, only two of the old gentry remained. This gave her a rich tapestry from which to satirically draw many of her characters: the frivolous and the worthy.
We watched Lucy Worsley’s excellent UTube video* in which she visited the many houses and towns the Austen family lived in after they shifted away from their original home in Steventon, where her father had been a rector in the local church for many years. She traced the changes of fortune that Jane Austen experienced in her life as an author.
In March we will talk about Sense and Sensibility, her first published novel in 1811.
If you wish you may read a fuller version of my introductory discussion notes by clicking on the link below
*The Untold Story of Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors, narrated by Lucy Worsley, UTube. [50 minutes] A general introduction to Austen’s life.
Extension: Also recommended Death of Jane Austen, narrated by Lucy Worsley, UTube.
The focus at our February session on Tuesday February 14th from 2 to 4 pm will be on developing an understanding of Jane Austen’s life, where she lived at various times and the different views that critics have of how she viewed her society and the Country Gentry class to which her family belonged.
In March we will focus on ‘Sense and Sensibility’.
An email has been sent to class members with an overview of the course and session topics. You can also download it here:
Can you ever get too much Jane Austen? Books, TV series, Films?
In this semester we will read Austen's 6 novels and have time for some films.
Teenagers running off with soldiers, your best friend marrying a dud, your mother impossible and haughty rich men ridiculing you! Really!!!
Come and discover why Regency England was very similar to today.
Meets in U3A main room, unlimited numbers.
Jane Austen Book Club
Can you ever get too much Jane Austen? Books, TV series, Films?
Convenor and contact details
03 5762 6558
Meeting time and venue
2 to 4 pm
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