July 2010


Never Let Me Go is by Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote, among other things, The Remains of the Day.  Time named it one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.  I don’t necessarily trust the list (they include Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret and Wide Sargasso Sea on that list; I’m not sure I can wrap my head around that — the first is a children’s book and the second is a revisionist “prequel” to a true all-time classic, Jane Eyre).  It’s a difficult book to discuss in any detail, because I don’t want to give away the story. Let’s just say that it’s a very haunting, very disturbing book and not my usual fare, but it’s also a gripping page-turner.

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all children raised in a boarding school in the English countryside.  They don’t mention families, nor do they ever talk about going home for Christmas or Easter or anything.  Their teachers are referred to as “guardians,” and these guardians keep telling them how special they are.  But at the same time, the guardians appear to be afraid of their charges.  As I read their story, I learned what makes these children so special and was, frankly, appalled. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy don’t find any aspect of their lives strange, however, and that’s what makes the book even more disturbing.  I learned about the book because I stumbled across the trailer for the upcoming movie starring Carey Mulligan (Kathy) and Keira Knightley (Ruth).  The trailer looked interesting, so I took out the book in anticipation of seeing the movie.  If the movie is as good as the book, it should be worth seeing.

Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. is the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s and its role in modern American society. It was written by Sam Wasson and is a highly entertaining read about a movie that is rather iconic, but of which I am not a fan.  I am glad I read it though — the idea that Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly is rather intriguing.  Capote did not like the film because it differs so much from his book, and both are considered classics (I’m leaning towards borrowing the book at some point).  The book’s front cover is a still from the movie, but the rest is, of course, in Tiffany blue.

Confessions of a Bigamist, by Kate Lehrer (wife of PBS’s Jim Lehrer).  I put it down after 2 chapters.  It may be wonderful, and dozens of people may tell me how great it is and how stupid I am for not liking it, but I just found it boring.  Unfortunately, I thought I returned it but hadn’t, so I ended up owing $1 on it.  I was not amused.

In the pipeline are  2 other books I’ve been wanting to read: Bedpan Commando by June Wandrey and Losing our Religion by S.E. Cupp. The first is coming to me through Interlibrary Loan, and the second is a new book for which I am in the queue.

Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d.

Metropolitan, the first film by indie writer/director Whit Stillman, is thought by some to be a modernization of Mansfield Park.  I happen to be one of the “some” in question.  I saw the film 12 years after I first read the book, and didn’t remember much of the story.  And, when I read the book after seeing the movie, I knew I liked the movie, but still didn’t like the book.  Now, of course, I am a big fan of both.

But I digress.

Here is an essay I found that says a lot of the same things I think about this film — that, while it’s not a literal re-telling of Austen’s story, a lot of the same elements are present.  We have a quiet, reserved, virtuous heroine (Audrey), a young man who is somewhat of an outsider (Tom), a notorious womanizer who tries to seduce the heroine (Rick), a woman Tom is obsessed with but whom we all know is wrong for him (Serena), and assorted other characters who occasionally resemble those from the book.  For those who don’t have a copy of “Jane Austen in Hollywood” available to them, here is some of the book over at Google Books (the link should take you to page 65, where similarities between Mansfield Park and Metropolitan are discussed).  As an aside, try to get a copy of the book; it’s excellent and is a good companion to another book that discusses Austen adaptations, “Jane Austen on film and television” by Sue Parrill.  Parrill’s book disagrees with the premise that Metropolitan is an updated Mansfield Park, but the book is still worth reading.

Austen is mentioned repeatedly in the film; Audrey is a Janeite, and she and Tom even talk about Mansfield Park.  Tom brings up Lionel Trilling’s famous essay on the novel, wherein Trilling says that nobody likes Fanny Price.  Audrey defends Fanny and, in a way, defends herself for not being quite as “forward” as the other girls in the group the movie centers upon (the “Sally Fowler Rat Pack”).

As in Mansfield Park, we have a group of young people who are essentially left alone by their parents.  And, as is often the case, regardless of what time period we’re talking about, young people left to their own devices have been known to get into trouble.  In Metropolitan, the young people in question play games that virtuous girls don’t play (strip poker and “Truth”); unlike Fanny Price, Audrey is convinced to go along with the crowd and play. Unfortunately, she hears and sees things that hurt her — proving that her instincts were right all along, just as Fanny Price’s were when she refused to take part in the play Lovers’ Vows.

Of course, we have a happy ending here too, but the movie’s ending is a little more ambiguous than the book’s.  In Mansfield Park, we know that Fanny and Edmund get married and live “happily ever after.”  In Metropolitan, we know that Tom realizes Audrey is the girl for him, but we don’t know what happens to them after the credits roll.  We don’t know if they’ll get married, and we don’t know about any “happily ever afters.”  But that’s OK; I like to imagine that Audrey and Tom are as happy together as they want to be.

Up next, Emma.

You will after you read this from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal (video at the link):

State elections officials Wednesday narrowly rejected a Milwaukee Assembly candidate’s attempt to run with the slogan “NOT the ‘whiteman’s bitch’ ” under her name on the ballot.

Ieshuh Griffin, an independent candidate with a history of feuds with local officials, said in response she would sue the state Government Accountability Board for infringing on her freedom of speech.

“I’m not making a derogatory statement toward an ethnic group. I’m stating what I’m not,” Griffin told board members. “It’s my constitutional right to freedom of speech.”

Unlike candidates from the established Democratic and Republican parties, independents are allowed a five-word statement of purpose on the ballot to explain to voters what their candidacy is about.

The irony is, of course, that the document that guarantees her that “constitutional right to freedom of speech” was written by a group of white men.  You may have heard of some of them: James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, George Mason, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

To quote the inimitable Hermione Granger, “What.  An.  Idiot.”

Griffin deserves nothing less than a thorough shellacking in the election. Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that she may win.  The election board who denied her this slogan by a razor-thin 3-2 margin appears to be as irony-deprived as the candidate.  But the publicity this has garnered could put her over the top.

h/t to The Schnitt Show and Hot Air.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to use this title again, but I do.  It’s actually a good thing that the boys are playing out West because I can’t stay up late enough to watch the nightly debacles.  When the current series with Arizona started, the D-backs were 20 games under .500. The Mets were 6 games over .500.  You’d think we’d have a mismatch on our hands and that the Mets would easily win this series.

Wrong.

Two games with Arizona, two losses for the Mets.  And this was on top of losing 3 of 4 to the Giants to open the 2nd half of the season.  The first one was a thumping; Arizona won 13-2.  And then last night, Arizona won by a score of 3-2.  Metsblog quotes a tweet from David Lennon saying that Alex Cora had to get on the team’s case when he heard guys laughing after Monday night’s loss.  You tell ’em Alex.  Yes, I know that professional athletes need to be able to forget painful losses so they don’t dwell on them the way fans do, but laughing and cracking jokes in the aftermath of a pounding is not good.  I’m glad Alex said something; I just wish Wright would.  He’s the de facto captain of this team and he needs to let his teammates know that this is unacceptable.

In the meantime, too bad Saturday and Sunday are 4 p.m. games.  I’ll actually be able to watch them.  Saturday’s game is on Fox — maybe my part of Florida will air the White Sox/A’s or the Rockies/Phillies and I’ll be spared.  Ugh.  

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As an aside, to mention something that really matters, last night’s episode of “Deadliest Catch” was a tribute to Captain Phil Harris.  It was very well done, and I freely admit I cried for much of it.  Next week is the last episode of the season and I’ll be in front of my TV at 9 Eastern to see it.  In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s the best show on television.

Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d.

I just finished watching MP07, starring Billie Piper as Fanny, Blake Ritson as Edmund and Jemma Redgrave as Lady Bertram.  I saw it shortly after it first aired in the UK, and my personal copy happens to be a Region 2 disc.  But, since my multi-region players are still in storage, I had to rent the disc from Netflix.  And, since we all know that PBS slices and dices the adaptations they show, the version I watched is a victim of such “editing.”  Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough about the film to tell you what is missing from the original. The envelope the disc came in said that this film is 90 minutes long — that’s way too short to be able to deal adequately with the complexities of this novel.  The region 2 version is 120 minutes long (per Amazon.co.uk) and, when I first saw that version, I remember thinking even that is too short.  This book deserves a better, more thorough treatment.

There are people who will tell you that they dislike this adaptation more than MP99.  I beg to differ.  I dislike MP99 intensely.  Enough that I almost didn’t include it in the Odyssey.  As for this film, well, I don’t think this one is dreadful; it’s just not very good.  We have another feisty Fanny and another Sir Thomas who isn’t as good a man as Austen’s.  We have a Lady Bertram who is too aware of what’s going on.  I know I said I think that Austen’s Lady Bertram knows more than she lets on, but Jemma Redgrave’s Lady Bertram is not indolent enough.  And Mrs. Norris isn’t enough of a bully.

While watching it, I took notes to keep track of my thoughts, and it hit me that the filmmakers seemed to have trouble with Austen’s characters the way she wrote them.  Let me explain.  One minute, Fanny will be quiet and reserved, and then the next, she’ll be running around the house, playing with Pug.  Or we’ll see Lady Bertram falling asleep in the drawing room in the middle of the day, and then all of a sudden, she’s paying very close attention to what’s going on around her.  Or we’ll see Sir Thomas soften up one minute, and then the next he’s gruff again.  Mrs. Norris will say something awful, and then she’ll shut up and mind her own business.  It’s like being at a tennis match with all that backing-and-forthing going on.

While it’s still closer to the book than MP99 is, there’s still a lot that’s different, and not all of it is good.  For example, Maria and Rushworth are engaged before Sir Thomas leaves for Antigua, and there’s no trip to Sotherton.  Maria and Edmund have their discussion about his becoming a clergyman almost immediately after their first meeting.  Tom never goes to Antigua.  There are no Grants – Mary and Henry appear to live in a “cottage” by themselves.  The Admiral is their step-father, not their uncle.  There is no Mr. Yates, so the play is all Tom’s idea and Julia remains unmarried at the end.  There is no ball for Fanny; she gets a picnic for her birthday instead.  There’s still dancing, but it’s on the lawn, not in a ballroom (as an aside, some of the music sounds identical to the Meryton Assembly scene in P&P05).  We don’t get Sir Thomas realizing that Fanny doesn’t have a fire in her room.  There’s no trip to Portsmouth either.  Instead, to punish Fanny for not marrying Henry, Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris all leave to go visit Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris’ mother for three weeks.  Sir Thomas gets a letter about Maria and Henry, and Mary comes to Mansfield Park to talk about the situation.  She tells Fanny in person that she wishes Tom would die.

What I did like is that they show Fanny getting the cross from William, and we do see that both Edmund and Mary have given her a chain for the cross (unfortunately, however, we don’t actually see Mary giving it to her, and there’s nothing about Henry’s role in the gift or about Henry’s necklace not fitting).  I also like that they have the scene where Sir Thomas offers Maria a chance to get out of the marriage.  But I just loved that, near the end, when Mrs. Norris tries to blame Fanny for the Henry/Maria situation, Sir Thomas tells her she’s free to leave Mansfield Park and go be with Maria.  The expression on her face is priceless!

So, on the whole, I’ll just say that it’s a below-average adaptation.  It’s not terrible, but it’s far enough off the mark that it’s not in the neighborhood of good either.  It’s a shame too, because the cast has such potential.  If they’d had better material to work with, this could have been more enjoyable.

Technically, we’re done with Mansfield Park, but I’m going to take a bit of a detour before moving on to Emma.  In 1990, Whit Stillman wrote and directed a film called Metropolitan that some Janeites (including yours truly) think is a modernization of Mansfield Park.  Lots of people disagree with me, but I’ll certainly do my best to change their minds when I write about it later this week.

Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d

7:25 pm EDT — I am about to pop the DVD of MP99 into the player and am filled with dread.  I saw this film in November of 1999 on a big screen at the Directors’ Guild in New York City before it was released to the general public.  I went with 3 friends, all of whom are devout Janeites.  A handful of people walked out during the film.  More walked out during the closing credits.  But we stayed because the writer/director, Patricia Rozema, was going to be there in person to talk about the film and to take questions from the audience.  I only remember one thing about that Q&A: Patricia Rozema said point blank that she didn’t like Mansfield Park, she didn’t like Fanny Price and she thought she could do better.

7:31 pm EDT — I have just watched two “featurettes” about MP99. One was the theatrical trailer, and the other had brief comments from the cast about the making of the film.  In the “making of,” Patricia Rozema states that she liked the book.  In the trailer, the announcer refers to Fanny as a “spirited heroine.”   The trailer shows scenes that I don’t remember and that I wish could have remained forgotten.  For example, I saw a scene where Edmund and Fanny are in a carriage and Edmund rests his head on Fanny’s bosom while asleep.  I saw a scene where Fanny and Susan are talking and Fanny describes Henry Crawford as a rake and Susan becomes, shall we say, “interested.”  I saw that the Prices live in filthy, disgusting squalor — they were not rich, but they weren’t dirt poor either.

Once again, I’m not impressed by this film.  But I have to watch it.  Here is my 1999 review from IMDb; I have not read it so it won’t influence me tonight, but I know I slammed the film, and I wonder if I’ll have any cause to change the review.  IMDb also tells us that the film’s tagline is “Jane Austen’s Wicked Comedy.”  I found quite a bit to laugh about in Mansfield Park, but I would never even consider calling it a “comedy,” much less a “wicked” one.  *sigh* We’ll see.

8:00 pm EDT — I am 10 minutes+ into the film and am already fuming.  Fanny sees a slave ship off the coast.  Fanny overhears the conversation between Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas about how Fanny is to be treated; she overhears the conversation between Sir Thomas and his daughters about how Fanny is inferior to them.  We hear Mrs. Norris tell her that she is to be her aunt’s “assistant.”  We see a painting supposedly done by Tom that looks like something a 20th century artist would have painted.  We see Fanny crying in her room, and in voiceover, composes a letter to Susan (yes, Susan).  So far, not good.

8:30 pm EDT — It’s even worse than I’d remembered.  Another 10 or so minutes have gone by, and we’ve seen Fanny write Jane Austen’s Juvenilia and be scolded by Sir Thomas for being too rambunctious; we’ve learned that the reason Sir Thomas had to leave for the West Indies was because the abolitionists were making noise; we’ve seen Lady Bertram take laudanum; and we’ve seen that Mansfield Park has no furniture.  OK, it has some.  But not much.  To say that it is sparsely furnished is not an exaggeration.

8:51 pm EDT —  Lady Bertram takes more laudanum.  Tom brings the Hon. Mr. Yates to Mansfield Park.  Mary Crawford plays billiards, smokes and asks the men whom she will be making love to in the play (yes, it’s in the book, but she says the line with a decidedly modern tone — the phrase “make love” did not mean then what it does now). Mary tries to seduce Edmund through Fanny while she and Fanny rehearse the play. Sir Thomas leers at Fanny when he gets home from Antigua.  Tom is a drunk who burps a lot and who disapproves of slavery.  Sir Thomas announces the ball in honor of Fanny even before Maria is married. Fanny is so upset at the thought of a ball in her honor given by a slaveowner that she storms out of the room, saddles her own horse and goes for a ride. At night. In the pouring rain.

9:16 pm EDT — Maria tells her father she doesn’t like Rushworth but does like his money and wants to marry him right away.  Fanny describes the wedding in a letter to Susan wherein she breaks the 4th wall again to talk to us.  Fanny gets wet running an errand for Mrs. Norris and Mary tries to undress her.  There, at the Rectory, Fanny breaks the news to Mary that Edmund is shortly to take orders, and he overhears the conversation.  This conversation takes place at the Rectory because we never get to see the trip to Sotherton.  Fanny dances with Henry at the ball, but I miss the scene with the cross or the chains.  Of course there’s no such scene, because William doesn’t exist. My bad.

I didn’t think it could get worse, but it does.

9:31 pm EDT — Fanny turns down Henry’s proposal of marriage, and Sir Thomas berates her for what appears to be several days.  He uses the trip to Portsmouth as a threat and tells her IN PUBLIC that maybe the deprivations of Portsmouth will make her appreciate the luxuries of Mansfield Park.  I liked the book’s Sir Thomas.  He’s flawed, but he is a decent man who changes over time and becomes a better person and a better parent.  I don’t like this one.  He’s a jerk and a creep and he makes my skin crawl.

9:55 pm EDT — Fanny is in Portsmouth and the house is a pigsty.  Bugs and creepy-crawlies roam the house.  Fanny tells Susan that Aunt Bertram is an opium addict.  Fanny is awakened one morning by a young man who is delivering fireworks and doves to her house. Afterwards, at church, Henry appears and walks her home. He tells her that he knows she’s in love with Edmund but that Edmund will marry Mary.  Mrs. Price tells Fanny there is no shame in wealth and that she married for love.  Fanny tells Henry “a woman’s poverty is a slavery more harsh than a man’s.” Fanny agrees to marry Henry, they snog in public and she giggles.

This is most certainly NOT the same story I finished reading barely a week ago.  How much more can I take?

10:26 pm EDT— Fanny wakes up the next morning and tells Henry (who tries to waltz with her in her parents’ house) that she’s changed her mind.  He gets angry and storms off.  Shortly after, Edmund arrives to take Fanny back to Mansfield because Tom was left for dead in London and the family need her.  Fanny and Edmund leave Portsmouth, but Susan stays behind.  As the carriage pulls away, Fanny tells Susan “Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint.” This is not a line from Mansfield Park.  It is a line from Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship, written when she was a teenager.  Then, during the ride back to Mansfield, Edmund falls asleep and rests his head on Fanny’s bosom.

Henry, Mary and Maria are all at Mansfield Park to be with the family while Tom is ill, and Henry tells Maria that Fanny has rejected him.

Nurse Fanny tends to Tom and finds a sketchbook where he has recorded all the abuse of his father’s slaves down in Antigua, including one drawing of Sir Thomas being “serviced” by a female slave.  Sir Thomas walks in on Fanny while she is looking at the drawings.  I am now so angry I could spit.  Yes, the ‘real’ Sir Thomas would have owned slaves, but he was not vicious or violent.  The ‘real’ Sir Thomas was feared, but also respected and loved. This Sir Thomas is inherently unlikable and has no redeeming features whatsoever.

Fanny is asleep up in her attic room and she hears a noise downstairs that she thinks is Tom. Despite the fact that she’s lived in that house for almost 10 years, she opens Maria’s bedroom door instead of Tom’s and sees Maria in flagrente delicto with Henry.  She then manages to find Tom’s room.  Edmund senses something is wrong (what a smart guy!) and sees Henry pulling on his trousers.  After Maria whines about what an idiot Rushworth is, Edmund goes back to his post in Tom’s room and comforts Fanny.  He tries to kiss her on the lips but looks away and then apologizes.

Is this Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or some soap opera that happens to have the same name? It’s getting harder and harder to tell.

10:48 pm EDT — At long last, it’s over.  Mrs. Norris sees the item in the paper about Maria running off with Henry and they use names instead of initials.  Mary is at the house when the news is discovered and is very condescending to Sir Thomas — she says “this is 1806, after all!” and tells him what he should do for Maria and Henry to be re-established in society.  She assumes that she and Edmund will be married, but Edmund tells her off in front of his family.

Fanny then tells us in a voiceover what will happen next.  She says that Henry and Mary will find partners whose “modern sensibilities” equal theirs. Julia does not run off with Yates.  Somehow, it’s decided that Susan will live at Mansfield Park.

10:52 pm EDT — It’s even worse than I’d remembered.  It doesn’t even work for me as a movie.   I noticed the Netflix envelope says: “In this period drama loosely based on Jane Austen’s most autobiographical novel…”  Yes, it is indeed a “loose” adaptation, but where do they get the idea that this is Austen’s “most autobiographical novel?”  Awful.  Awful.  Awful.  I can’t wait to get it out of my house.

I want these hours of my life back.  In the meantime, I need a drink.

On Friday, KC, JR and I went to McKechnie Field in Bradenton to see the hometown Marauders play the Charlotte Stone Crabs in Florida State League (high-A) action.  On Saturday, we went to Tropicana Field in St Petersburg to see the Rays play the Cleveland Indians.  And last night we went to Port Charlotte to see the Stone Crabs play the St. Lucie Mets.  Three different towns, three different stadia, three very entertaining evenings.  I apologize in advance for the quality of some of the photos; they were taken under less than ideal conditions and I didn’t exactly have the equipment to overcome them.

First, McKechnie Field. Here is the facade, facing 9th Street West in Bradenton, FL (remember, just click on the pictures to enlarge them):

As you can tell from the outerwear, this picture is from Spring Training 2010. McKechnie Field is a beautiful, cozy little ballpark. It’s been the spring home of the Pirates since 1969, and hosted the Cardinals when it first opened in 1923.  The first night game was last year, and they only had one for Spring Training 2010.  This picture is from that game; the Pirates faced the Baltimore Orioles, who just moved to nearby Sarasota for their spring games (I posted pictures of one of those games here):

And here is a picture I took that night of the Pirate Parrot — I believe this is the “real” Parrot rather than a ST replacement.  He saw me trying to sneak a picture of him, so he decided to take advantage of the situation and make a face at me:

As mascots go, he’s not bad, but he’s no Mr. Met.  But then, who could be?

And, just for the record, here is a day game at McKechnie, also from March:

Unfortunately, when I was at the Marauders/Stone Crabs game on Friday, I didn’t think I’d be blogging about it, so I didn’t take any pictures of that game.  I did, however, get a look at the board where the FSL standings are posted:

On Saturday, we went to Tropicana Field in St. Pete to see the Rays beat the Indians.  “The Trop” is, to put it bluntly, a butt-ugly stadium. The astroturf is old and worn out, the acoustics are horrible and, when Rays fans ring those blasted cowbells, the sound is enough to make one wish the vendors sold earplugs.  And, to top it off, on Saturday night, some idiots brought vuvuzelas along to further torment their neighbors.

Here is the entryway to the Trop:

And here is a view of the field from the “tbt party deck”:

I wasn’t kidding about the quality of the turf.

On Sunday, we drove down the Interstate to Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.  This is an absolutely GORGEOUS park that opened last year for Rays ST baseball, and is now the summer home of the Rays Florida State League team, the Charlotte Stone Crabs.  They have a tiki bar out in left-center field:

and

I’m really glad we went because it gave me another chance to see the St Lucie Mets, the NY Mets FSL affiliate.  The Mets are managed by Edgar Alfonzo, older brother of an all-time favorite NY Met, Edgardo Alfonzo.  Wilmer Flores, one of the Mets’ top prospects was just promoted to St Lucie, and he played in last night’s game.  Unfortunately, he went 0-for-4, but one game is not going to take him off the fast-track.  He plays shortstop so, unless the PTB don’t think Reyes will be around after his next contract, they’ll either trade Wilmer or move him to another position before long.

Here is Wilmer at the plate:

This cracked me up — the bullpens in Port Charlotte have tiki bar-type coverings for shade. This is the Mets’ bullpen:

Number 34, who was very friendly, is Scott Moviel, a right-handed pitcher who has bounced around the various Mets Class A teams since he was drafted in the 2007 draft.  He was injured for part of 2009, so that’s likely why he hasn’t been moved up to Binghamton (AA Eastern League) yet.  He throws a fastball, a sinker and a change-up but, because of his size (6’11”), it could take him a while to get his act together (see Johnson, Randy), and he’s apparently slated to be a reliever.

One thing that surprised me was that the Mets have a catcher on the St Lucie roster named Michael Barrett.  I figured he was some kid with the same name as the former Expo, Cub and Padre. But no.  This was “the” Michael Barrett.  He signed with the Mets very recently and is playing for St. Lucie.  He has been out of professional ball for a while, so who knows if he’ll make it back to the majors.

Another interesting name on the roster is Kai Gronauer, a catcher from Germany.  According to an article I read about him, he was the best hitter on the German national team, and now he’s in the Met organization. He’s batting .356 in 13 games with St Lucie so far, after hitting .267 with the Savannah Sand Gnats earlier on.

Unfortunately, the Mets lost to the Stone Crabs 5-4.  Charlotte came back from a 4-0 deficit to win on a passed ball in the 9th.  I was not amused, but I did have a great time.  Last night’s loss gave St Lucie a 11-7 record and they are currently in 2nd in the Southern Division; Palm Beach has a 10-6 record and they’re currently in first place.  But, as of right this minute (8:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time), the Mets are up 5-4 over the Stone Crabs in the bottom of the 5th.

LGM!!!

Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d.

I just finished watching MP83, an adaptation starring Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny, Nicholas Farrell as Edmund, Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas, Angela Pleasance as Lady Bertram and Anna Massey as Mrs. Norris.  I’d only seen it once before, and that was about 10 years ago, so I watched it this time with an almost completely fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, this miniseries does suffer from the sad production values that plagued the adaptations of the 60s, 70s and 80s.  The costumes aren’t very pretty (what were they thinking with Lady Bertam’s headgear?????), and the wigs are generally atrocious (Mr. Yates looks like he’s wearing some sort of rodent on his head).  For good screencaps of the characters, check out Marspeach’s review of MP83.  But, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s we didn’t know any better, so I am fully able to overlook the appearance of the piece and focus on the substance. And yes, there is quite a bit of substance here.

First the actors.  Most people don’t like Sylvestra Le Touzel’s Fanny, but I happen to.  She is somewhat physically awkward, but I think she does that to bring out Fanny’s insecurities. Towards the end of the piece, when she is shown just how much she is needed (in Portsmouth and again upon her return to Mansfield Park), she is far less awkward and more graceful.  Nicholas Farrell (whom I first saw as Aubrey in Chariots of Fire) does a good job as Edmund.  His hair is dreadful, but I like his actual performance.

The first time I was “introduced” to Bernard Hepton was when he played Archbishop Cranmer in both The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R.  In MP83, he is excellent as always; he brings out the essential goodness in Sir Thomas.  I particularly like how we can actually see him losing patience with Mrs. Norris and realizing just how pernicious and sycophantic she is.  I also like Angela Pleasance as Lady Bertram; she really brings out an aspect of the character I noticed when I read the book this time – that she knows more about the goings-on at Mansfield Park than she lets on, and that she and Sir Thomas have a better marriage than I used to think.  It’s obvious that he confides in her and she does care about him and her children.  But I must ask what is the point with the thumb-sucking?  That’s just bizarre.

Samantha Bond is a terrific Maria.  Henry Crawford creeps me out as does, by the way, Mary.  Their matching wigs are so unattractive and Mary is supposed to be beautiful, but she really isn’t anything out of the ordinary here.

But no discussion of MP83 would be complete without mentioning just how wonderful Anna Massey is in the role of Mrs. Norris.  When I first saw her as the pathetic Lady Laura Kennedy in The Pallisers, little did I know that she would be so outstanding as the evil, twisted woman who flatters the wealthy, powerful Bertrams and emotionally abuses her poor, innocent niece Fanny.  I cannot say enough about how good she is in this role and have no compunction in saying I think she is the definitive Mrs. Norris.  We know that Jo Rowling named Argus Filch’s unlikable cat after this Austen character, and Anna Massey shows us why.

As for the production itself, it is full of things I liked, such as the discussions between Mary, Henry and Mr. Rushworth concerning “improvements” at Sotherton and Everingham especially after having learned something over the years about Austen’s thinking about “improvements” to one’s property.  We know from Pride and Prejudice that one of the things Elizabeth notices about Darcy’s estate at Pemberley is that it has not been “improved” and that it is not of the latest style in appearance.  The English upper classes were very interested in landscaping during this period, and it was all the rage to hire famous landscapers to “improve” their estates.  We understand that the Darcys did not do this at Pemberley, and this is something we are intended to approve.  We are not, however, supposed to approve of Henry and Mr. Rushworth’s interest in re-doing the landscaping of their respective estates to be more fashionable.  We know from these scenes that Mr. Rushworth is not very bright and wants to “keep up with the Joneses” er, Crawfords, and that Henry is very superficial.

Once Sir Thomas comes back from Antigua, he seems to be much more aware of just how awful Mrs. Norris is and just how good Fanny is.  In this production, I particularly liked the scene when Mrs. Norris decides she wants to go to Portsmouth but Lady Bertram tells her she’ll have to pay for her own return trip.  Sir Thomas looks over at Mrs. Norris while she decides not to go visit her poor dear sister Price after all and you can almost think that he is restraining himself from rolling his eyes at her.

Besides the atrocious wigs and makeup (why is Tom orange when he returns from Antigua?) there really isn’t much to dislike about this adaptation, but a few things do stand out – this adaptation does not include the discussion between Sir Thomas and Maria about her upcoming marriage when he asks her point-blank if she wants out.  I also missed the scene from the book where Fanny discovers that the necklace from Mary/Henry does not fit William’s cross but the chain from Edmund does.  I was particularly disappointed that the latter scene was omitted because this adaptation is otherwise so faithful to the book.  One made-up scene did not appeal to me – and it concerns Maria and Henry.  I didn’t think we needed to see the two of them kissing in Maria’s home at Wimpole Street and her mother-in-law finding them.  We see this scene before Fanny herself is told what has happened — I don’t think I would have minded as much if the scene had been put in after Fanny knows.

This adaptation also reminds me that, while many say that Austen never wrote a scene in which a woman was not present, this is not completely accurate.  The scene where Sir Thomas tells Tom that he has been so profligate that Edmund will lose the living at Mansfield does not have a woman present.  I did not notice it in the book, but I definitely did notice it here.  I checked the book (chapter 3) and, as far as I can tell, there is no woman present during this very brief conversation.

All in all, I like this production very much and look forward to seeing it again.

Part III: Mansfield Park

I haven’t read Mansfield Park, Austen’s most controversial novel, in almost 11 years.  I read it for a class during my freshman year in college, and I absolutely hated it.  I skimmed through it in the mid-90s, when the slew of Austen adaptations inspired me to read all of the Big 6.  But I didn’t read it seriously again until the autumn of 1999, when I picked it up in anticipation of seeing MP99.  I was, frankly, rather surprised at how much more I liked the book than I had 20+ years earlier.  And now, 11 years after that last reading, I liked it even more.  It’s just one more reason why my appreciation for Austen grows with each passing year.

It is not an exaggeration to say that MP is Austen’s most controversial novel. Anyone who goes into it expecting the same type of wit as is found in, say, P&P will be sorely disappointed.  But, as Margaret Drabble points out in her introduction to the recent Signet Classics edition of the novel, we shouldn’t expect MP to be like P&P because “it [MP] aims at something other than social comedy.  The novel is only incidentally a comedy of manners.”  It is also the first of Austen’s “mature” novels; she wrote her more “sparkling” books, NA, S&S and P&P, all before she turned 25.  But MP was written when she was in her mid-to-late 30s and, as is pointed out at The Republic of Pemberley’s JaneInfo page, it was “the first of Jane Austen’s novels not to be a revised version of one of her pre-1800 writings.”

When I first read MP at age 18, I didn’t appreciate Fanny Price.  A lot of people don’t like her.  She is easily Austen’s least popular heroine. In her afterward to the Signet edition, Julia Quinn says “…the problem with Fanny is that no one actually likes Fanny…She is not, in any sense, a romantic heroine…[her] dialogue is often thoughtful and intelligent, but she can only rarely be called clever.”  I don’t love Fanny either.  She’s not someone I would want to hang out with.  But I will state categorically that the famed Elizabeth Bennet could learn a thing or two from Fanny Price.  Fanny would never be taken in by a cad like Wickham nor, like Jane Bennet, would she go out of her way to see the best in him, regardless of the evidence.  Fanny may be physically weak, but she has a spine of stainless steel and she is an impeccable judge of character.  She is not naive.  If she doesn’t like someone, there’s a good chance that person deserves it.  Unlike a lot of people I know, I never liked Henry Crawford and never wanted Fanny to marry him.  Again, Fanny is the best judge of character in the story and she doesn’t want to marry him and that’s good enough for me.

And, speaking of Henry, something really leapt out at me during this reading of the book that I’d never thought about before.  In chapter 31, Fanny finds out that William has been promoted to lieutenant  and that Henry Crawford is responsible for this promotion.  She finds out because Henry tells her.  When I read this chapter the other day, I was struck at how anxious Henry is for Fanny to know all that he’s done, supposedly because of his feelings for her.  This scene got me to thinking about the contrast between Henry’s behavior here and Darcy’s in P&P.  Darcy rescues Lydia for Elizabeth’s sake (and also because it’s the right thing to do).  But we also learn that he does not want to be acknowledged publicly for having done it.  Henry, on the other hand, can’t wait to show Fanny how wonderful he is because he got her brother a promotion. Darcy isn’t my favorite hero, but he’s essentially a good man (especially at the end of the story). Henry is not a good man at any point in the story.  I know a lot of readers want Fanny to marry Henry because they believe he truly loves her.  I don’t believe it for a minute.  He starts his affair with Maria not too long after he leaves Portsmouth — does that sound like a man in love to you? It doesn’t to me.  Mrs. Norris certainly blames Fanny for Maria’s situation, but I simply cannot.

This truly is Austen’s most controversial novel, but not because it deals (in part) with adultery.  It is controversial today because, in my opinion, the characters are polarizing.  Fanny and Edmund are deemed dull; Mary and Henry are praised for being witty and clever.  The fact that Mary sneers at the idea of Edmund becoming a priest, the fact that Mary wishes Tom dead, the fact that she conspires with Henry to get Fanny to fall in love with him and the fact that she tries to blame Henry and Maria’s affair on Fanny are not in her favor.  She may be witty, entertaining and clever, but she is just as morally bankrupt as her brother.  Fanny and Edmund are dull, but they are good, decent people who try to live good, decent lives. Edmund does not become a priest because he has no other options; he really wants to be a priest.  He fully understands that he can be a force for good in that role.  Last but not least, Fanny is much better suited to be a priest’s wife than Mary.  I can see Mary play-acting at being Lady Bountiful for a while, but I think she’d get bored rather quickly and would make Edmund’s life miserable.  He may be dull, but does he really deserve that?  So, in the final analysis, I see MP’s plot as being a lesson on appearance versus substance, with substance winning in the end.

A lot of people don’t see MP this way, but it’s the only way I can see it.  Even way back when, in the days when I didn’t like the book very much (when I was upset to see that it wasn’t as much fun as P&P or Emma), I couldn’t see Mary as Edmund’s wife, nor could I see Fanny as Henry’s.

Feel free to disagree.  I look forward to reading your thoughts.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah BartlettWilliam WhippleMatthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John HancockSamuel AdamsJohn AdamsRobert Treat PaineElbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen HopkinsWilliam Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger ShermanSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver Wolcott

New York:
William FloydPhilip LivingstonFrancis LewisLewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard StocktonJohn WitherspoonFrancis HopkinsonJohn HartAbraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert MorrisBenjamin RushBenjamin FranklinJohn MortonGeorge ClymerJames SmithGeorge TaylorJames WilsonGeorge Ross

Delaware:
Caesar RodneyGeorge ReadThomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel ChaseWilliam PacaThomas StoneCharles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George WytheRichard Henry LeeThomas JeffersonBenjamin HarrisonThomas Nelson, Jr.Francis Lightfoot LeeCarter Braxton

North Carolina:
William HooperJoseph HewesJohn Penn

South Carolina:
Edward RutledgeThomas Heyward, Jr.Thomas Lynch, Jr.Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button GwinnettLyman HallGeorge Walton