January 2011

Part VI: Persuasion

I saved the best for last.  Persuasion has been my favorite book since I first read it in late 1995, after seeing the gorgeous 1995 BBC adaptation. I’ve probably read it 6 or 7 times since then and I love it more each time. It’s been several years since my last re-read, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to have a fresher perspective this time.

Lately, I have been involved in a discussion about the heroine, Anne Elliot.  There are some people who think she is a doormat, and others who, like me, think she’s a strong, admirable woman.  So, in this reading, I am going to try to pay particular attention to Anne and her thoughts/actions to see if I can understand why some people don’t like her.

So I’ve just started the book. We’ve really only met Sir Walter, Miss Elliot and Lady Russell.  We know that Sir Walter is a very proud man who thinks very, very highly of himself.  His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is a chip off the old block who cannot find herself a husband.  She has been her father’s hostess since she lost her mother 14 years earlier. Lady Russell is a neighbor of the Elliots and was a dear friend of the late Lady Elliot (who was not like her husband at all).  She is a sort of surrogate mother to the Elliot daughters.  We are told that she loves Elizabeth “just because,” and not because Elizabeth is particularly lovable.  We know that Mary, the youngest daughter, is married to the son of a local squire, and that she and Lady Russell are not that close.  But we are also told that Anne, the middle daughter, is special. Anne is the most like her mother, and Lady Russell loves her very much.  We get all this in the first two chapters.

Yet again, the Jets kicked us in the teeth.  They looked like world-beaters against the Patriots last week, and this week they looked like the 98-pound weakling of the old Charles Atlas ads in my comic books.  They didn’t even bother to show up in the first half, and they couldn’t make up for it in the second half.

I am disgusted.  I know it sounds prissy, but signing character guys is not necessarily a bad thing.  Why?  Because a lot of the guys who were brought in because their old teams didn’t want to deal with the baggage are the ones drawing all the penalties.  They are not disciplined in their personal lives, and they have shown us that they are not disciplined at work either.  There are reasons that their old teams couldn’t wait to get rid of them.

Before kick-off, I really thought Gang Green had a solid chance to win this game.  But you can’t play that badly in the first half and expect to win the game.


On Tuesday, I borrowed Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America, by William McGowan.  McGowan writes a regular column for the Wall Street Journal and also appears as a commentator on a variety of media outlets (including both MSNBC and Fox). This is a sequel to his earlier book, Coloring the News, which I have not read but will see about borrowing once I’ve finished this one.

Gray Lady Down reminds me of just why I don’t take the Times seriously anymore.  The focus is primarily on “Pinch” Sulzberger’s reign as publisher of the paper.  His father (“Punch”) may not have had conservative political leanings, but he was much more even-handed than his son.  Junior has taken the paper so far to the Left that many of us who once did consider it the “Paper of Record” now wouldn’t use it to line the bottom of a bird cage.

After the first few chapters, which focus on the tenure of Abe Rosenthal and the transition from Punch to Pinch as publisher, we are given concrete examples of the political correctness that is rampant in both the news and opinion sections of the paper.  I remember some of the incidents McGowan brings up and am grateful to the non-mainstream media for my knowledge of these events. I certainly would not have known about them had I relied only the New York Times for my news.  The Duke lacrosse case is prominently discussed, and I am, frankly, appalled at the coverage the Times gave this case.

All in all, it’s an interesting read that I highly recommend.

Part V: Northanger Abbey, cont’d.

This is not a column about another movie adaptation of Northanger Abbey.  This is a column about a stage play written by New York-based playwright Lynn Marie Macy that is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the single best adaptation of Northanger Abbey currently available.  It has been my practice to review each adaptation in chronological order, but this one is different.  I’ve seen it twice, most recently in 2006, and I therefore cannot say that I’ve re-watched it especially for the Odyssey.

The play takes Northanger Abbey and combines it with the story told by Ann Radcliffe in Catherine Morland’s favorite book, The Mysteries of Udolpho.  The parallels are striking, and this is a major reason I was so peeved at Andrew Davies having Catherine read The Monk in his script for NA07.  To me, this means he just doesn’t get the story.  NA is not my favorite book, but the story is not nearly as dull as Davies makes it.  Macy understands that it’s a parody of Gothic novels, and she brings out the humor that is in the book.  Davies thinks he can improve upon the book.  Macy knows full well that she can’t, but what she does is help us understand it better.  That’s a huge difference and I can honestly say that I liked the book better after having seen her play.  Here is a link to Ms. Macy’s website, complete with a couple of blurbs about the play

If Lynn Marie Macy’s Northanger Abbey is produced near you, do yourself a favor and go.  It’s just wonderful.

Part V: Northanger Abbey, con’td.

I just finished watching NA07.  It was written by Andrew Davies and stars Felicity Jones as Catherine, JJ Feild as Henry, Carey Mulligan as Isabella and Sylvestra LeTouzel as Mrs. Allen.  I have seen this adaptation once or twice in the past, and distinctly remember not loving it. This is the original ITV production, not the version that was shown in North America on PBS.  I never actually watched the PBS version, so I cannot say for certain which scenes are missing, but I do know from people who have seen both that there were definitely some scenes cut.

So, without further ado, here are the notes I took while watching it:

The music for the opening credits is actually reminiscent of “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter.  I never noticed that before.  It’s odd, but I don’t dislike it.  Perhaps it’s because the book is about a girl who craves adventure. Who knows.

We see the Morland family getting larger by the year, and a narrator tells us what Austen does — that Catherine was born to be a heroine, despite appearances.  The Allens are much younger here than they were in NA86, and that works so much better for me.  I’d never pictured them to be quite as old as they were in NA86.  Sylvestra LeTouzel has aged quite nicely, and I like her as the flighty Mrs. Allen.

Catherine reads quite a bit in these early scenes, but the book is not Udolpho.  We see her daydreaming during her reading and, frankly, these daydreams are a little more racy than I would expect from a girl who is a total innocent.

Alas, Bath is played by Dublin.  I haven’t been to Bath in more than 10 years, and I have never been to Dublin, but I do know that I am not looking at Bath.  I’ve never heard why they chose not to film in Bath.  If the very low-budget NA86 could do it, why not this one?

The scene where Mrs. Allen is jockeying for position in the tea room is very funny.  Sylvestra LeTouzel is no longer quiet little Fanny Price.

We meet Henry. Peter Firth’s Henry was creepy, but (so far, at least) Feild is much better. You can see the twinkle in his eye when he talks muslin with Mrs. Allen.

During the Assembly, we see a blond man staring at Catherine.  He stares at her in the tea room, and again while she is dancing with Henry. If you haven’t seen this adaptation, you don’t know who he is, but I do, and I don’t like it.

After the Assembly, Catherine writes in her journal, and goes to bed. She then has another dream/fantasy that is much too racy for a girl like her.  She sees Henry duel for her, and she leans against a tree in a very low-cut nightgown (not the one she was wearing while she wrote in her journal) and looks as if she’s having an orgasm.  I really don’t think this is very appropriate. But it’s Andrew Davies, so I can’t be too surprised.

Now we meet Mrs. Thorpe and the Misses Thorpe.  I recognize Isabella from the tea room, where she sat with the man who stared at Catherine, and can hardly believe that this is the same actress who played sweet, silly little Kitty Bennet in P&P05 just 2 years earlier.  She’s certainly grown up. The baby fat is gone and she’s now quite stunning. But Isabella Thorpe is a very, very different character than Kitty Bennet.  She’s not silly and she’s certainly not sweet.

I like that they kept the bit from the book where Isabella pretends to be offended by the two young men who want to flirt with her.  I also like how we see just how different Isabella is from Catherine.  Catherine wears very demure clothing — she still looks like a little girl at times — but Isabella is far more worldly.  Granted, her dresses are too low-cut for daytime, but even if they weren’t, one would know immediately that this is not a naive young girl.

Well, well, well.  It turns out that John Thorpe is the one who was staring at Catherine at the Assembly Hall. I’m really not sure why Davies did that, and I don’t really like it.

Unfortunately, Eleanor Tilney is several years too old for the part (Catherine Walker was 32 in 2007) and too old to be completely believable as an intimate friend of someone as young as Catherine, but she is very elegant and very lovely, just as I’ve always imagined the character to be. Her father’s hair is pretty awful, which is surprising given how gorgeous the other hair, clothing and makeup are.

I like the scene where John Thorpe lies to Catherine and tells her they are going to Blaize Castle. Except when he says “damn it.”  I don’t think even John Thorpe would speak that way before a young lady.

One of the things I dislike most about this adaptation is that Davies has Catherine read The Monk. It is a truly “horrid” book, and is really not something that a girl like Catherine would choose to read.

We see John Thorpe lie to General Tilney about Catherine’s situation in life, and then it is he who introduces Catherine to the General.  That’s just strange.

Then, during their walk in the woods, we get to meet the man Eleanor is in love with, and Henry asks Catherine not to talk about it at all.  That’s not from the book either, and seems to me to be another way for Andrew Davies to spoil plot twists.

And then there’s the bathtub scene that I believe was removed from the PBS airing.  For those who have only seen the PBS version, Catherine is in a bathtub, and Felicity Jones is doing a voiceover of a reading of The Monk.  Catherine starts to daydream.  The walls disappear, her bathtub is out of doors (what is this, a Cialis commercial???)., and Henry shows up, dressed as a clergyman, leering at her. Catherine is embarrassed, and he tells her not to be ashamed because it’s all God’s creation. He asks her to stand up. She’s nude, but we only see her from the back.  And then she wakes up. It’s entirely inappropriate, but it’s not surprising, given who wrote the script.

The scene where James and Isabella announce their engagement is also rather well done. I liked how John Thorpe discombobulates Catherine, thereby making it possible for him to claim later that she led him on.

We meet Captain Tilney.  He’s played by someone named Mark Dymond.  His picture at IMDb isn’t gorgeous, but he sure is in full uniform (which is, alas, historically inaccurate – military men did not wear their uniforms when not on duty). But, since he is gorgeous here, I can certainly understand why the fickle Isabella has a hard time turning him down.  He does superior and bored very well.

At that same ball, Henry tells Catherine that he considers John Thorpe to be a rival.  I’m not sure I like that.

I love the music at all of the dances.  It’s just beautiful and almost makes me wish I could learn to dance like that.


Catherine has another dream.  This time, Isabella is in bed, panting, while Captain Tilney looks down on her.  He looks over at Catherine and smiles a very evil, very sexy smile.  Again, it works if you’re an experienced adult, but not an innocent, naïve girl.

I am more and more impressed with Carey Mulligan.  She was a lovely, sweet, easily led Kitty Bennet, and is also an outstanding selfish, petulant, manipulative Isabella Thorpe. I hope to get to see her in some other films along the way.  I really like how she tells Catherine she’s upset about not being able to marry right away, and that she’d be happy with £50 per year.  I don’t believe her for a second, but I can understand who someone like Catherine could. She’s very good.

The General is very creepy.  It would be hard for me to stay in the same house with him, no matter how much I loved his son.

The interior of the house is quite lovely. It is as I imagined it from the book.  The exterior of the house is played by Lismore Castle in County Waterford, Ireland, but I can not be sure that the interior is, too.  Here are some pictures of the actual castle. In the dining room, there is a fireplace with a motto in Latin: Fortis Cadere Cedere Non Potest. In English, this means “A brave man may fall, but not yield.”  This is, apparently, not the motto of the Lismores (their motto was Fidus et audax [Faithful and courageous]), so the interiors of Northanger Abbey may not have been filmed at this castle. This is the motto of the Earls of Drogheda, but I cannot find anything that would tell me that the interiors were not at Lismore.

Why would the maid take Catherine to the door of her room, hand her the only candle and then leave?  How is she to get around the house? It’s pitch dark, for goodness’ sake!

Now this is very strange.  Henry invites Catherine to Woodston while the General is in London, and the two of them ride there alone. This is just wrong.

OK, having Henry tell Catherine that she should write a book called Northanger Abbey is just ridiculous, and beneath even Andrew Davies.

The way they put Mrs. Tilney’s room all the way over in a separate tower of the house makes me think of Bertha in Jane Eyre.  It’s just silly.

Mrs. Tilney’s room looks like no one’s been near it in years. But, if Henry manages to get there on this particular day, isn’t it likely that he’s been there before, so the room wouldn’t look quite so ignored?

I actually like the scene where Henry confronts Catherine in his mother’s room.  I thought it was well done.

OK, this is far and away the worst part of the movie.  I’m going to say this once, and once only: ISABELLA AND CAPTAIN TILNEY NEVER SLEPT TOGETHER. I don’t give a rodent’s posterior what Andrew Davies thinks but, while Isabella may be a lot of not-so-good things, stupid isn’t one of them.  And she knows full well it would be stupid to sleep with Captain Tilney.  She may be a flirt and a tease, but she’s not stupid enough to give away the only thing of value she has: her virtue.  It’s not even remotely possible to infer this from the text. Jane Austen came right out and told us when people were having sex – we know for a fact that Lydia and Wickham were; we know that Maria and Henry Crawford were; we know that Willoughby and Eliza did. And, just as we know that these people did have sex, we know that Isabella and the Captain did not.  It’s the single worst thing about this adaptation.

I’m not sure why they have Catherine leaving in the middle of the night, but it’s not as if it’s hard to have her do what she did in the book – leave at 6 a.m.  And it’s also stupid for Catherine to say she deserves to be treated so shabbily.  Catherine is not very bright, but she’s not quite that stupid.

I’m very proud of Catherine for burning Udolpho.  I tried reading it, and forced myself to get halfway through before putting down with no regrets. It’s awful.

The kiss at the end is lovely, but the rest of the ending is too abrupt.  Austen gave us 2 full chapters of an ending, and we get maybe 2 minutes.  I am not pleased.

Overall, it’s not as bad as I remembered.  It’s not great, but it’s not a stinker the way NA86 is.  I know that’s faint praise, but it’s true.  I disliked the fantasy sequences because they really are far too racy for a girl like Catherine.  I don’t like the fact that she reads The Monk and I really, REALLY hate that Davies has Isabella sleeping with Captain Tilney.  So, I guess I’ll just say it’s mediocre.  Sad, isn’t it?

I spent the weekend in Port St Lucie watching some friends participate in Mets Fantasy Camp. It was as much fun as I’d had in ages.

In order to make it to PSL in time for the morning meeting, I left home at 5:30 a.m., and arrived at the Mets’ minor league complex just in time to grab a little breakfast.  The food was mediocre, but let’s face it — you don’t go to fantasy camp for the food!  There were 70-something campers, mostly men, and I have to say that I am in awe of the women who attend.  There’s no way I could do it.  Anyway, I went specifically to visit with my friends The Great Baboo and Metswinagain.  They played on the same team, the Finding Nemos, which was run by Super Joe McEwing and Randy Niemann (= “Nemo”). The third coach was Al LeBoeuf, who spent his entire career in the Phillies’ minor league system, so I should be forgiven for not having known who he was.

Other former Mets who were there included Joe Pignatano, Ed Charles, Bud Harrelson, Al Jackson, Barry Lyons, Pete Schourek (who looks as if he could still pitch!), Eric Hillman, Kevin Baez, John Stearns, Ron Swoboda, Duffy DyerFelix Millan, Bob ApodacaAnthony Young, Lenny Harris, Tim Teufel, Wally BackmanDoug Flynn and Pat Zachry.  I know there are more, but I honestly cannot remember any more names.  I apologize profusely in advance to anyone whom I have omitted.  I was lucky enough to meet several of these men, and had some really interesting conversations with them.  They made me prouder than ever to be a Mets fan.

The Finding Nemos had qualified for the Final Four on Friday, and I got to see both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader.  I’m so glad I did because the Finding Nemos won the championship that afternoon.  Their pitcher, Dave, had 4 complete games in two days, and we in the stands were worried that his arm would fall off before the day’s end. Baboo caught all 4 of those games — with a broken leg, to boot!

After the games, the players went to have their aches and pains treated, and I went back to my hotel to nap and get ready for the Awards Dinner to be held at the PGA Country Club.  The dinner was a blast — Baboo won the Gary Carter award for best catcher in camp, and his battery mate, Dave, won the Tom Seaver award for best pitcher.  Dave also won the team’s MVP award.  I sat at their table, and had a lovely conversation with Randy Niemann and Joe McEwing. I’d always thought they seemed like good guys, but now I know for certain that they are. The whole team was good guys, and I was welcomed with open arms by the pros, the campers and their wives. Every camper receives a baseball with the autographs of all the professionals, and the person who handed them out obviously didn’t know who Al LeBoeuf was either, so Al was handed a ball. But, since he obviously didn’t need one, the team kindly gave it to me. Whenever I get my own place, I will put it in my “girl cave”, along with my autographed Tug McGraw jersey (another gift from the truly Great Baboo), my 1986 World Series autographed picture (a gift from a former boss), and other treasures I’ve accumulated over the years.

On Sunday, the professionals played each of the 8 teams, one by one, starting with the champions and working their way down to the #8 team. I stayed for the whole thing, and ended up sitting with Metswinagain and Baboo along the left-field line eating lunch while the lower-ranked teams played. The professionals won every game, but some were closer than others. There were some good plays and some clunkers, but it was obvious that everyone was having fun.

I left for home (and the Jets game) around 1-ish after a truly outstanding weekend. I hope to go again next year, but as a fan, not as a player. I know that other teams do fantasy camps too, and I hope those campers have as much fun at their camps as Mets fans do.

Here are some pictures.  They did not come out well at all.  Part of it is because the sun was so bright that I could barely see what I was taking a picture of.  Others are fuzzy because people moved when they shouldn’t have. Remember, you can click on the pictures to make them larger.

Anyway, here goes:

Saturday meeting, part 1.

Saturday meeting, part 2.

Saturday meeting, part 3.

Saturday meeting, part 4.

Finding Nemos warming up for Saturday's game 1 action

More pre-game

Game action

Finding Nemos make the finals!

Baboo gets ready to bat in the championship game.

Metswinagain at the plate.

Finding Nemos win the big one!

Post-game celebrating.



Bad picture of Metswinagain and Joe McEwing (the man in the yellow shirt in the background is Bud Harrelson)

Pros just before game time on Sunday.

Finding Nemos starting lineup.

Pros line up for the game.

Baboo at the plate vs. Pete Schourek.

Baboo on the mound, Metswinagain behind the plate.


The Patriots were favored by 9 1/2 or something like that, but the Jets proved once again that the games still have to be played.  They beat Bill Bellicheat and his pretty-boy quarterback to win the right to face Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship.

This is the first time in franchise history that they’ve been to back-to-back championship games and the only time since at least 2001 that a team has beaten both the Colts and the Patriots in back-to-back weeks.

Jets fans are good at doing adversity.  We’re used to it.  I fully expected Gang Green to lose today, so I am ecstatic at the win.   Can they win next week, or do I have to tell Steeler fans that “I’m just happy to be here.”?

Part V: Northanger Abbey, cont’d.

I’ve just finished watching NA86. I’d never seen it before, so I went into it with absolutely no preconceived notions.  This column is very stream-of-consciousness, but there was so much to comment on that it seemed to me to be the best way to write about it.

It stars Peter Firth as Henry, Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine, Robert Hardy as General Tilney and Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen.  I have not heard of a single other member of the cast.  I have never heard of Katharine Schlesinger either but, since she does play the heroine, I had to list her.  Apparently, there are a lot of people who have never heard of Katharine Schlesinger — her IMDb page is very skimpy and, except for having played Catherine Morland here and Anne Frank in a dramatization of The Diary of Anne Frank, she has not played anything but extras, and even then she’s only been in a handful of productions.  The script was written by Maggie Wadey, who wrote the less-than-inspiring MP07.  Perhaps I’m prejudiced by this, but now I’m not expecting much.  I own a copy of it, but it is in storage so I had to rent this one from Netflix.

The film starts off with Catherine reading one of her “horrid” novels while sitting up in a tree.  One of her younger siblings (a boy named Edward whose wig makes him look like a girl and which almost makes MP83’s Mr. Yates look good) calls her into the house to see the Allens.  These Allens are considerably older than I’d expected.  A quick peek at Googie Withers’ bio at IMDb tells me that she was almost 70 during filming, with Geoffrey Chater as Mr. Allen being 4 years younger.  When we consider that Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe are supposed to have been at school together and that Mrs. Thorpe has children in their teens, casting a woman who is perilously close to 70 as Mrs. Allen was probably not the best decision they could have made.

On the way to Bath, they pass right by Northanger Abbey.  We know this because the driver tells us.  That was weird.  Just about as weird as the music, which I cannot say that I like at all.  This Northanger Abbey is “played” by a castle.  Castles and abbeys are not the same things. I’m thinking either the filmmakers didn’t know this, or they did and they thought we don’t.

One can see right away that NA86 has the same poor production values as the other 1980s adaptations we’ve talked about before, but I’m glad that they actually use Bath to play Bath.  I was pleased to see that the real Pump Room and the real Royal Crescent appear in this adaptation and that they were not reproduced in a sound stage.

Enter Peter Firth.  I love him as Harry Pearce in Spooks, but he looks just awful as Henry.  He’s too often sweaty and pink-faced, a little creepy (especially when he looks at Catherine and sighs), and decidedly unappealing.  He was 33 years old in 1986, several years too old for the character.  And, speaking of decidedly unappealing, at least one of Catherine’s wigs in Bath is really awful.

The Thorpes are icky.  Isabella is so obvious and slutty that I can’t understand how even an innocent like Catherine could be taken in by her. Her laugh is like fingernails on a blackboard.  Jonathan Coy’s John is even worse than he is in the book.  He makes my skin crawl. I get a very strong incest vibe between John and his sisters.  And Elvi Hale (Mrs. Thorpe) was born in 1931, making her 14 years younger than a woman she supposedly went to school with.

We see several dream sequences that are also very creepy.  Isabella shows up in Catherine’s bedroom when Catherine is still in her nightgown.  And Isabella and James announce their engagement too early on in the story.

The scene at the baths is just weird.  Besides the music, I have to think it’s just not right that men and women are in the baths at the same time.

They condensed the two different scenes where Catherine misses her outings with the Tilneys.  It must be a time thing.  But they could have skipped the weirdness at the baths.

When I read the book, I could never figure out what the Tilney siblings saw in Catherine. Yes, she’s a sweet girl, but she gives the reader the impression that she’s not very bright, and both Eleanor and Henry are far more interesting people.  It’s not much different in this adaptation.  They talk about Catherine as if she weren’t in the room, and at times Henry sounds more as if he’s laughing at her rather than with her.

I do like the dance scenes in this film better than most of the other earlier adaptations.  The music is good here and the dances actually look choreographed.  For example, one of my few quibbles about P&P80 is the dance scenes, but here they are quite well done.

On the way to Northanger Abbey, Henry tells Catherine that he has his own estate not too far away.  So it turns out that Henry is not a clergyman.  When we finally do get to the Abbey, it fulfills all of Catherine’s daydreams of the place, instead of being the more modern home Austen tells us it is. We see Catherine find the pieces of paper that are intriguing, but they turn out not to be mere laundry lists. They seem to have been written by someone who is planning an assignation.

We also get a scene where Catherine overhears Eleanor telling Henry that she can’t bear to live in that house anymore.  I’m not sure where this came from either.

I don’t know if Peter Firth does his own singing, but all I can say is that, if he does do his own singing, he shouldn’t give up his day job.  It’s terrible.  I wanted to fast forward over that part, but I restrained myself.

They also make up a new character — the Marchioness of somethingorother, who is dressed in black from head to toe and who appears to be the General’s mistress.   During the scene where Henry is singing badly, a little black boy dressed as a page takes Catherine by the hand and leads her outside, where he proceeds to do cartwheels on the lawn.  Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.

Oh, it’s all a dream sequence.  Obviously Henry’s singing got to Catherine, too.

And then we have a servant telling Catherine that General Tilney made his wife’s life “a perfect misery.”  A loyal servant never would have said that, and no servant in the book did.  The scene in Mrs. Tilney’s room when Catherine is snooping has more strange music, and something that sounded like sighing or heavy breathing.  Again, very weird.  Henry’s speech in Mrs. Tilney’s room sounds like a Shakespearean soliloquy.  It doesn’t work for me at all.

And the weirdest part of all is when Eleanor tells Catherine that her family is not rich and that her father is an inveterate gambler who loses too often. Eleanor also tells Catherine about the man she is in love with, and then says that the notes in wardrobe in Catherine’s room are their notes where they arranged their assignations.  It doesn’t make sense for those notes to be anything but what Austen says they are — laundry lists.  Those laundry lists are part of Catherine’s realization that life isn’t exactly the same as one of her “horrid” books, and to change them into love notes is pointless.

We don’t get to see Catherine’s departure from Northanger.  We find out in a scene between Henry and the General that the General never met up with John Thorpe a second time the way he does in the book; here it’s the Marchioness who tells the General that Catherine was not rich.  One last thing about the General — he always sounds drunk.  Was Robert Hardy trying to dull the pain of being in this disaster?

Overall, “creepy” is the best description I can think of for this adaptation. Roget’s Thesaurus doesn’t offer any good synonyms for “creepy,” so we’re stuck with it.  “Boring” is another word I would use.  If I hadn’t needed to watch this adaptation for the Odyssey, I’d have gladly taken the disc out of the player a fraction of the way through and sent it back to Netflix.

This is the 2nd worst adaptation I’ve seen.  It’s not as bad as MP99 because at least this one actually tries to tell Austen’s story, whereas MP99 told its own story (and it didn’t even do that well).  As I said before, I do own NA86, but I can say without hesitation that I cannot see any reason to watch it ever again. Ugh.

For all of those North Americans who didn’t get to see Downtown Abbey when it was on YouTube (and who missed my earlier posts on the subject), I must remind you that it’s on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic tomorrow night.  It’s as entertaining a soap opera as you’ll see and  you won’t regret watching it.  Dame Maggie Smith is her usual wonderful self as Violet Grantham, the Dowager Countess Grantham.  Hugh Bonneville plays her son, the current Earl, and Elizabeth McGovern is his wife, Cora, the current Countess.  They have 3 daughters, none of whom can inherit the earldom and, because of the entail, they cannot inherit their mother’s money either.

So, enter the new heir.  The old heir, who had been engaged to the eldest daughter, Mary, has died, so an even more distant cousin must be found.  This cousin is played by the adorable Dan Stevens (a man who had the very difficult job of making Edward Ferrars sexy), a solicitor who arrives on the scene with his mother, Mrs. Crawley (Isobel).

We also get to meet the servants who take care of the Granthams.  Downstairs is the responsibility of Mr. Carter (the butler) and Mrs. Hughes (the housekeeper), who run a very tight ship.  Except for the first footman and the lady’s maid, that is.

I don’t want to spoil it anymore.  It’s wonderful and anyone who likes period dramas should expect to like it.  A season 2 is in the works, and it should start filming shortly.  I am planning to buy the DVDs when I get the chance, and am looking forward to watching it whenever I want.  Remember, there will be a couple of scenes cut from the original ITV broadcast, but hopefully this new version will still be watchable.

Yes, it’s 2011, but I’m not changing the name because I’d have to fiddle with the URLs and I don’t feel like doing that.  So sue me.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled post.

Part V: Northanger Abbey

If I remember correctly, I last re-read Northanger Abbey in 1999 before going to see a theatrical adaptation of the book at a VERY off-Broadway theater in NYC.  Regardless, it was quite a while ago.  I do know that I was never really very fond of it.  I’ve always liked Henry Tilney, but have found Catherine to be a tad annoying.

As has been the case with the other books I’ve been reading for this series, I’m reading the Signet Classics edition with introductions by Margaret Drabble and afterwords by well-known women authors.  The afterword in this edition is by Stephanie Laurens, who tells us that NA is her favorite Austen novel.  I am happy for her, but regardless of her reasons for loving it, I just don’t.

The very first thing that struck me is that, for some really odd reason, Isabella Thorpe reminds me of Willoughby.  Why?  Well, in S&S, Willoughby waits until Marianne tells him which poets, authors, composers, etc. she likes before he tells her which ones he likes. And, surprise!, he has the same likes and dislikes she does.  In NA, Isabella tells Catherine that she and James have all their tastes in common. How much do you want to bet that she waited until after he told her his likes and dislikes before she announced hers?  Granted, Isabella is not as twisted as Willoughby, she is an opportunist, just as he is.  She’s even more desperate financially than he is and, as a female, she’s in a worse position than he is because he can still get a job if he has to (not that he would, but society wouldn’t look down upon him as they would upon her).  Isabella and Willoughby lead innocent people on, and then dump them unceremoniously when they become inconvenient.  Isabella also leads Catherine on, allowing that sweet, innocent girl to believe that she was her best friend and then ignoring her when someone better comes along.  Isabella dumps both Morland siblings in her attempt to “catch” Captain Tilney and, when he shows that he’s not interested in her as a marriage prospect, she begs Catherine to help her get James back.  But, by the time this happens, Catherine has realized just what Isabella is — a social-climbing opportunist who would say or do anything to catch a rich husband.

Isabella’s brother, John Thorpe, also plays a part in Catherine’s maturation.  He is even more “out there” with his lies and duplicity than Isabella is and, in this case, Catherine is able to see right through him from the start.  But Catherine’s older brother, James, is fooled by both Thorpes, and he pays even more dearly for his naïveté than Catherine does.

As bad as the Thorpes are, the real villain of the piece is the hero’s father, General Tilney. He is also taken in by John Thorpe, and it is John who shapes the General’s opinions of Catherine — first, that she is a great heiress and second, that she is from a poor, grasping, gold-digging family.  As naïve as Catherine is (and she definitely is naïve) , she does not fall for John Thorpe’s lies.  It is the more worldly character who does.

NA is a spoof of the Gothic novels that were popular in the Georgian/Regency era.  Authors like Mrs. Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis wrote the popular books of the day, and Catherine allows herself to be swept away by the stories.  The plot of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novel The Mysteries of Udolpho is very similar to that of Northanger Abbey, but that is the subject of another post.

All in all, I cannot say that I loved Northanger Abbey.  I can’t even say that I liked it better than I have before.  What I can say is that I don’t think it is Austen’s finest work. In my opinion, it’s the work of a very young author, whose work is not as polished as it will be later. We know that S&S and P&P were reworked more than 10 years after they were first written, but this book wasn’t even published until after her death.  She’d sold it for a few pounds when she was in her 20s (under its original title, Susan), and bought it back later, after the publisher did nothing with it.  I don’t remember reading about her tweaking it for publication the way she did her two other early novels. S&S and P&P benefited from such tweaking, and I have to think that NA would have, too.

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