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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

It has been pretty quiet on the blog for the last two months or so, as everything from a very busy year caught up with me! Unfortunately life has the tendency to do that some times, and it seems to happen most often at Christmas time.

On the subject of Christmas, one of my presents this year from my long-suffering husband was the mini-series Lost in Austen. I remember seeing some of it on TV a few years ago, but I felt so upset to see the storyline all mixed up that I couldn’t bear to watch it all. It must have just been a stage I was going through at the time, because this year I decided to put it on my present list!

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

The story centres around a young lady, Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), who lives in Hammersmith, London. She has a passion for Jane Austen and, in particularly, for the book Pride and Prejudice. On one rather peculiar day she discovers Miss Elizabeth Bennet standing rather awkwardly in her bath. This elegant regency lass had found a secret doorway leading from her attic in 1813 to Miss Price’s modern day bathroom. But after Amanda steps through the doorway to check it out, it slams shut leaving Miss Bennet behind to navigate a world of mobile phones, electrical appliances, and speeding vehicles.

Lost in Austen (2008)

In the bathroom in Lost in Austen (2008)

Poor Miss Price is likewise in a dilemma! Not only is she locked in a world that she does not belong to, she is quick to realise that the events from her favourite novel are about to radically change without Elizabeth Bennet present. And how devastating would it be for an Austen fan to realise that they were the means by which a perfect storyline could be forever destroyed?

What follows is a series of blunders as Amanda desperately tries to orchestrate the meetings of those characters who need to meet, and similarly attempts to prevent some characters from getting too close. Mr Bingley and Jane, Mr Collins and Charlotte, and NOT Mr Wickham and Lydia. She even resorts to convincing them of the affection which they should hold towards each other.

When you stop to think about it, losing the main character from any story would quite naturally radically change it, and the loss of Elizabeth is no exception. Suddenly, Bingley is attracted to Miss Amanda Price instead of Miss Jane Bennet; Jane then has no reason not to think of matrimony with Mr Collins; Charlotte Lucas is promptly left “on the shelf”; Bingley is heartbroken when the fair Jane slips through his fingers; and so it continues. The ravages that occur to a storyline when its main character is unavoidably absent!

Here that sound? That’s Jane Austen spinning in her grave like a cat in a tumble dryer.

The worst thing about this movie is that I didn’t know how it would end. (And that is just-a-little hang-up of mine… I really don’t like not knowing the ending! That is probably the reason why I enjoy movies based on historical novels… movie producers don’t tend to change the ending of a classic storyline, how ever much they meddle with the middle bits.) It felt awful to see the storyline reduced to a shambles! Charlotte Lucas deciding to be a missionary, Jane Bennet miserably unhappy, and no one to tempt Mr Darcy to get off his high horse so he can pollute the shades of Pemberley. Something deep inside me still insisted that the story should somehow have a happy ending, regardless of the cyclonic trail of demolition that had wreaked its havoc. And somehow – against all the odds – it did!

One of the things I did like about this movie is that the theme within the novel – that of Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice – still flows through the movie and its characters despite the altered storyline. Darcy is still proud, and he still comes to regret his pride. The only alteration is that of Amanda’s prejudice, that she is initially convinced she should love Mr Darcy but instead finds him unbearable.

If I dream about him tonight, I shall be really angry! I am going to dream about him. Well, in my dream I hope you choke! Hateful man.

Overall, I found this movie funny and lighthearted. It is always interesting (and amusing) to imagine what sort of mess would happen when modern life has a mid-air collision with Regency times. And this movie is precisely a depiction of what you could expect!

Related Posts

Every Savage Can Dance!

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood

Sources and Relevant Links

Lost in Austen (2008) – the mini-series

Image Source: Penny for your Dreams (This blog post is a great summary of the storyline for the first episode.)

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Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded,

Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is a epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. It takes the form of a collection of letters written by a fifteen-year-old girl to her parents about her life as a maid in a squire’s household.

After Pamela’s elderly mistress dies, she is left in the employment of her mistress’s son, Mr B–. He initially shows her exceptional kindness, which then develops into amorous advances. Pamela is quite disturbed by her master’s designs on her virtue, especially when they begin to take a sinister turn. He accosts her in the summerhouse and in various other places around the house, demanding that she surrender her virtue to him. It becomes most alarming on a particular occasion when Mr B– hid himself in the housekeeper’s bedroom closet. Pamela had begun to sleep in Mrs Jervis’s bedchamber in order to better protect herself, and it was the closet in this room where he waited for Pamela to undress and get into bed.

I went to Mrs Jervis’s chamber; and, O dreadful! my wicked master had hid himself, base gentleman as he is! in her closet, where she had a few books, and chest of drawers, and such like. […] I sat myself down on one side of the bed, and she on the other, and we began to undress ourselves; […] I pulled off my stays, and my stockings, and all my clothes to an under-petticoat; and then hearing a rustling again in the closet, I said Heaven protect us! but before I say my prayers, I must look into this closet. And so was going to it slip-shod, when, O dreadful! out rushed my master in a rich silk and silver morning gown. I screamed, and ran to the bed, and Mrs Jervis screamed too; […] I found his hand in my bosom; and when fright let me know it, I was ready to die; and I sighed and screamed, and fainted away.

"Pamela swooning after having discovered Mr B in the closet. He (frighted) endeavouring to recover her. Mrs Jervis wringing her hands, and screaming." From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

“Pamela swooning after having discovered Mr B in the closet. He (frighted) endeavouring to recover her. Mrs Jervis wringing her hands, and screaming.” From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

By this stage Pamela had already decided to remove to her parent’s home, even though they are poor and could hardly afford to support her. Whilst her removal is put off multiple times by her new master, she is at length taken in Mr B–‘s carriage – not to her home – but to her master’s Lincolnshire estate.

"Pamela setting out

“Pamela setting out in the travelling Chariot (for her Father’s, as she is made to believe), takes her farewell of Mrs Jervis, and the other servants. Mr B observing her from the window by whose private order she is carried into Lincolnshire.” From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

Why, dear father and mother, to be sure he grows quite a rake! How easy it is to go from bad to worse, when once people give way to vice!

She is placed in the care of a Mrs Jewkes, and is quite fearful of her master’s purposes by this kidnapping. The entire estate seems devoid of people who would help her from her predicament, excepting the local parson, Mr Williams. However, all his attempts of aid and all her attempts at escape are cruelly prevented.

Eventually, Mr B– comes to Lincolnshire to pursue his advances on Pamela. He tries to persuade her to become his mistress by forcing himself upon her and even offering her financial income if she accepts, but she is persistent in her refusal to voluntarily surrender her virtue to him. After a while, he seems to change his approach and decides that he should marry her, despite the many reasonable objections that would have existed in the eighteenth century (such as his family’s dislike of the match, the difference in their station in life, etc…).

Pamela decides, once she is convinced of the sincerity of his proposal, to accept him. She then continually pours out profusions of gratitude for the wonderful treatment and condescension he has shown her by asking her to be his wife.

O, sir, said I, expect not words from your poor servant, equal to these most generous professions. Both the means, and the will, I now see, are given to you, to lay me under an everlasting obligation. How happy shall I be, if, though I cannot be worth of all this goodness and condescension, I can prove myself not entirely unworthy of it! But I can only answer for a grateful heart; and if ever I give you cause, wilfully, (and you will generously allow for involuntary imperfections,) to be disgusted with me, may I be an outcast from your house and favour, and as much repudiated, as if the law had divorced me from you!

I found these constant effusions of humble praise quite sickening really. I mean, the guy had repeatedly tried to rape her! Not only was it a stretch of the imagination that such a “rake” would suddenly want to marry his maidservant because of her long-standing virtue, it was equally amazing that Pamela would suddenly forget how abominably she had been treated at his hands and accept him!

The story concludes with a visit from Lady Davers (Mr B–‘s sister) who violently opposes the match, but she is soon won over by the virtuosity and goodness of Pamela.

As a story, it was quite repetitive and long-winded (common in the 18th century and especially common to Samuel Richardson), which made it a little annoying. It is surely unrealistic to think that a maidservant would have had that much paper available to her to write so copiously to her parents, let alone have the time to write it all! However, even though it does not make particularly easy reading for the modern bookworm, I can appreciate the story in the light of the culture of the time.

The eighteenth century had begun to see the rise of the novel, where a fictional story was used to communicate to the reader a moral message. Previous to this, a writer would usually communicate such moral-related content in the form of published sermons on religious themes, or in conduct books designed to provide rules on social behaviour. In this context, the author’s very heavy moral directive – that virtue (above all other characteristics) is to be preferred in women – is easier to understand. Samuel Richardson did not want to tell an interesting story per se, but wanted to communicate an important moral message and merely used a story to do it.

Pamela was quite popular in its day and went on to have several revisions, with subsequent editions adding chapters on Pamela as a mother to her young children. Richardson had intended it to promote virtue and religion among the youth of the day, however many people saw Pamela’s seeming uprightness to be covering a more sinister cunning designed to ensnare a squire in matrimony. This viewpoint occasioned several satires to be printed on the topic, including An Apology of the Life of Miss Shamela Andrews (1741), by Henry Fielding, and The Anti-Pamela; Or, Feign’d Innocence Detected (1741), by Eliza Haywood.

All in all, it was heavy going but interesting to read arguably one of the most popular novels written during the eighteenth century. What is your favourite eighteenth century novel?

Related Posts

Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella

Sources and Relevant Links

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson (1740) – read online

Illustration Source: National Gallery of Victoria

An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, by Henry Fielding (1741) – read online

The Anti-Pamela; Or, Feign’d Innocence Detected, by Eliza Haywood (1741) – read online

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Last week I took my newborn to see his first movie! It was an attempt to begin early the parental practice of educating children in the “cultured arts”, which (by my definition) includes – but is not limited to – exposure to all types of musicals, plays, literature and historical movies (and probably costuming too…).

The danger of taking a two-week-old baby to a movie for their “education” is there is always a risk that they will do the unthinkable and sleep through it… which, of course, he did. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed myself!

Farewell, My Queen is a movie based on a novel of the same name, written by Chantal Thomas, which is now on my list of books to read. The story follows a servant, Sidonie Laborde, who is Reader to Queen Marie Antoinette. It is set during the early days of the French Revolution, in July 1789, when the Bastille was stormed by the French people.

Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette, in Farewell My Queen (2012).

Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette, in Farewell My Queen (2012).

The storming of the Bastille represented the brutal beginnings of the French Revolution, where the long standing and deep resentment of the French people towards the French court began to take the form of violent upheaval. This movie depicts the uncertainty surrounding the Royal family as King Louis XVI began to capitulate to the demands of the people in an attempt to preserve control, while much of the remainder of the French royalty and nobility hurriedly fled the country.

One of the focal points of the movie is the friendship between the Duchess de Polignac and Marie Antoinette, who pleads with her to leave France when the ferocity of the people against Versailles is made clear.

The story is ultimately told through the eyes of the fictional character, Sidonie Laborde, of whom we know little. She, as Reader to the Queen, has the opportunity to see the Queen’s progression from her fanciful preoccupation with novels and fabric swatches before the fall of the Bastille, to her distress as she attempts to plan her family’s escape to Metz, a plan later abandoned by the King.

Lea Seydoux as Sidonie Laborde, in Farewell My Queen (2012).

Lea Seydoux as Sidonie Laborde, in Farewell My Queen (2012).

This movie offers such a brief perspective of Marie Antoinette’s life – only 4 days – that it is difficult to see the complexities of the Queen as a person. Likewise, with an equally limited view of the complexities in the main character of Sidonie, it is hard to get a full appreciation of her as a character. What is clear is the way in which Sidonie is impacted by the decisions of the Queen, both negatively and positively, which must have often been the fate of servants in a feudal society.

One of the things I always enjoy in historical movies are the costumes, and they were lovely in this film, even though many of the characters were servants and were dressed in much more ordinary fashions.

The photography in and around the palace of Versailles was also beautiful and gave a real sense of the grandeur of the times.

I also thought that having a film in French (with English subtitles) made the story more genuine and believable. In fact, it reminded me of the stark difference between this movie and Marie Antoinette (2006), starring Kirsten Dunst, where the Queen spoke with a very strong American accent.

Unfortunately this movie only screened in select cinemas for an extremely short time in Australia, but it is one I would love to add to my collection. I find movies set in the 18th century are such good costume inspiration! They are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Royal Affair

The Case for a Dictator

Sources and Relevant Links

Farewell, My Queen (2013) – the movie

Farewell, My Queen: A Novel, by Chantal Thomas

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser – buy through Amazon

Marie Antoinette (2006) – the movie

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Dan Parkinson (1935-2001) wrote 33 novels during his lifetime, and after I discovered one of his books in a discount bookstore, it instantly hit my favourites list! Fox and the Faith (1987) is set in the year 1777 and follows the adventures of a young Irishman called Patrick Dalton, an officer in the British navy.

The Americans had begun their war for independence in 1775 as a result of several political struggles between the colonies and their British sovereign. The King of England had insisted that he had the right to tax the American people, but as British citizens the Americans wanted to have some Parliamentary representation. As Britain tried to increase its control on the colonies, the colonies tried harder to maintain some reasonable autonomy of themselves. On July 4th, 1776, thirteen American states declared their independence from the Crown.

A battle between an American ship (flying the brand new flag with 13 stars and stripes) and a British merchant in 1779. Painted by Francis Holman.

As the story opens, Dalton is first officer on the ship Herrett and they are heading to New York Bay to meet General Howe’s fleet. Along the way, they cross paths with a British warrant ship Courtesan, who is bringing home a prize, the schooner Faith. As they continue north, they are intercepted by two American privateers and Courtesan asks Herrett for help. Herrett is left mortally crippled from the battle and Courtesan leaves them to chase his prize and head for home. With his captain dead, Dalton brings the wreck of a ship home barely in one piece, with many of the crew either dead or injured.

Now berthless, and unable to lodge a complaint against the Courtesan, Patrick Dalton happens upon an old Irish friend, Clarence Kilreagh, who manages a local tavern. Kilreagh hears that there is a warrant out for Dalton’s arrest for his previous association with the Fitzgerald in Ireland. Whilst there is no doubt of Dalton’s innocence, in these times of war there would be no proper hearing, and Dalton would be forced to await death in a prison hulk.

In order to help Dalton escape, Clarence Kilreagh organises to break out a group of sailors from the Long Island stockade, held for assorted minor crimes, to crew the schooner Faith that sits alone on the bay. However, when they board the boat amidst other mayhem on the bay, they discover another small group of colonists had a similar idea. Led by a young girl called Constance Ramsey, this group was aiming to take back the ship that originally belonged to Constance’s father. They were quickly subdued by Dalton’s men and agreed to join him – if at least to escape the impending danger on the British-controlled bay!

What follows is a maritime adventure of escape from the British navy, as they sail the ship up the Long Island Sound. However, as soon as Jonathan Hart, captain of Courtesan, discovers his prize vessel has been stolen, he also pursues the fleeing Faith. And once the British navy put out an order to sink the Faith, everyone – British or American, privateer, pirate or navy – are all in pursuit of the little schooner.

After many sea battles, in which Dalton uses his wits and extraordinary seamanship to survive and flee, they take a much altered Faith back to Mr Ramsey in Wilmington. The crew has survived much, and now any who want to leave the Faith are able to. Constance Ramsey, having developed a tendre for Captain Dalton, reluctantly watches him leave to finally stand and fight Courtesan. An amazing battle ensues, where Dalton uses all of his wits to beat Captain Hart, and then still manages to sail his battered ship back into Delaware.

Once I had finished this book, I happened upon some more in the series at another discount store and immediately snatched them up! There are a total of four books in the set. They are:

  • The Fox and the Faith
  • The Fox and the Fury
  • The Fox and the Flag
  • The Fox and the Fortune
Unfortunately the series doesn’t feel like it finishes. I searched for more of the books in the series and I found out that Dan Parkinson had died at the age of 66, in 2001. According to his widow, he had 2 unfinished books in his computer. I wonder if the final Fox book was one of them.

I have read a bit of criticism over the historical accuracy of his books, in terms of ships and sailing terms, but seeing as I have next to no historical sailing knowledge it has not been something I have never even noticed. From what I can gather, the historical events do seem accurate, though American history is not one of my strong points!

Historical maritime novels are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

The Fox and the Fury – coming soon

Sources and Relevant Links

The Fox and the Faith – on Amazon

Dan Parkinson – A list of his books

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Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a British novelist during the Victorian era and published several novels during her lifetime. One of these was North and South, which first appeared in serial form in 1854 for the journal Household Words, and was later published as a book in 1855.

North and South explores the differences between the lifestyle and culture in the south of England and that of the north, which was becoming more industrialised during this period. It also examines the relatively new types of relationships that were developing between business owners or manufacturers and their employees in a time of great industrial change.

The novel follows Margaret Hale, a young lady who moves with her father and mother from their family home in Helstone, a rural setting in Hampshire, England, to the busy and smoky manufacturing town of Milton-Northern, in the industrial north.

But Margaret was at an age when any apprehension, not absolutely based on a knowledge of facts, is easily banished for a time by a bright sunny day, or some happy outward circumstance. And when the brilliant fourteen fine days of October came on, her cares were all blown away as lightly as thistledown, and she thought of nothing but the glories of the forest.

Margaret’s father resigns his position as a clergyman due to doubts as to his religious beliefs, and decides – on the advice of a good friend, Mr Bell – to move to the north where he hopes to obtain a position as a private tutor. This change in abode creates quite a deal of anxiety and resentment for Margaret’s mother.

Miss Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in the cotton mill, North and South mini-series (2004).

Milton could be considered as the polar opposite of Helstone. Where Helstone is green and peaceful, Milton is grey and smokey, noisy and busy. The relationships between people in Helstone are the traditional relationships between people in a normal English village, with the landed gentry who own estates, and the servants, tenants, and clergy that make up the rest of the village. In contrast, the relationships in the town of Milton are based on employment 0r business. Here people are business owners or manufacturers, and employ workers in order to produce goods for sale.

In this new town, Margaret Hale is soon introduced to one of the owners of a local cotton mill, Mr John Thornton, as he is one of her father’s new students. She is struck first by his rude manners, and his preference for Milton over the aristocratic life in the south, as well as his attitudes towards wealth and progress. Later, she feels that he is also cruel and unsympathetic to the plights of his workers.

“It is no boast of mine,” replied Mr Thornton, “it is plain matter-of-fact. I won’t deny that I am proud of belonging to a town – or perhaps I should rather say district – the necessities of which give birth to such grandeur of conception. I would rather be a man toiling, suffering – nay, failing and successless – here, than lead a dull prosperous life in the old worn grooves of what you call more aristocratic society down in the South, with their slow days of careless ease. One may be clogged with honey and unable to rise and fly.”

“You are mistaken,” said Margaret, roused by the aspersion on her beloved South to a fond vehemence of defence, that brought the colour into her cheeks and the angry tears into her eyes. “You do not know anything about the South. If there is less adventure or less progress – I suppose I must not say less excitement – from the gambling spirit of trade, which seems to requisite to force out these wonderful inventions, there is less suffering also. I see men here going about in the streets who look ground down by some pinching sorrow or care – who are not only sufferers but haters. Now, in the South we have our poor, but there is not that terrible expression in their countenances of a sullen sense of injustice which I see here. You do not know the South, Mr Thornton,” she concluded, collapsing into a determined silence, and angry with herself for having said so much.

“And may I say you do not know the North?” asked he, with an inexpressible gentleness in his tone, as he saw that he had really hurt her. She continued resolutely silent; yearning after the lovely haunts she had left far away in Hampshire, with a passionate longing that made her feel her voice would be unsteady and trembling if she spoke.

Margaret also has the opportunity to become friends with some of the workers in the mills that live close by her. This gives her a sense of how their lives are affected by their working conditions in the cotton mills.

A crisis develops when the mill owners refuse to give a pay rise to the workers. The workers, in an attempt to force the mill owners hands, form a “Union” and decide to strike. Gaskell paints the two sides of the issue quite well, as the mill owners are unable to afford to give a rise in pay because their products are not obtaining a high enough price in the marketplace. The position of the strikers is also pitiable, for even though some are starving and unable to continue surviving on strike pay, the Union will not let them return to work.

Eventually, the desperation rises to a pinnacle when Irish workers are bought in to run the mill. The workers riot and Margaret is injured when she is visiting the Thornton’s mill.

Many in the crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless, – cruel because they were thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. She knew how it was; they were like Boucher, – with starving children at home – relying on ultimate success in their efforts to get higher wages, and enraged beyond measure at discovering that Irishmen were to be brought in to rob their little ones of bread. Margaret knew it all; she read it in Boucher’s face, forlornly desperate and livid with rage. If Mr Thornton would but say something to them – let them hear his voice only – it seemed as if it would be better than this wild beating and raging against the stony silence that vouchsafed them no word, even of anger or reproach.

When Mr Thornton proposes to her on the following day, feeling bound to do so in honour, she refuses him. He becomes even more convinced that she is a proud and haughty girl, as her London manners suggest.

Mr John Thornton (Richard Armitage) proposing to Miss Hale, North and South mini-series (2004).

By this time Margaret’s mother has become dangerously ill, and she writes to her exiled brother in Spain to come quickly in utmost secrecy. He arrives and, through a course of cruel coincidences, Mr Thornton comes to believe that Margaret is a loose woman who keeps the company of strange men at odd hours of the day, even refusing to admit it in the face of criminal prosecution. This further estranges the two, though it is as this point that Margaret begins to learn more of Mr Thornton’s good heart.

Margaret Hale is affected by death quite significantly through the course of the book. Her neighbour and friend, Bess Higgins, dies from “fluff on the lungs” due to a long exposure at the cotton mill. Margaret’s mother dies, after a long battle with illness, and then her father dies suddenly when he is away from home. Margaret struggles in different ways to deal with these losses, but particularly that of her father. At the time of her father’s death, she has quite reconciled herself to Milton ways and is forced to leave suddenly to live with her aunt in London.

Mr Bell, her father’s oldest friend and owner of extensive property in Milton, decides to leave Margaret all his possessions and then also suddenly dies. Margaret suddenly finds herself in charge of a large fortune, with Mr Thornton as one of her tenants.

Since the strike, the mill has been going badly, due partly to the long strike action as well as a downturn in the market for cotton. As a result, Thornton’s mill is forced to close. Margaret offers Mr Thornton an investment of some of her capital which would enable him to reopen to continue his trade. At this point they are reconciled to each other, having finally seen the good in each other.

Mr Thornton and Miss Hale: the best kiss in period drama!

I really liked the BBC mini-series, as well as the book. The book relies on quite a deal of narrative to tell the story, which the movie adaptation had to put into scenes. This means that the flow of the screenplay is a little different to the book, which tends to happen to any book that is made into a movie or mini-series. In addition, the mini-series is commonly thought to have the most romantic kiss of all period dramas!

And romantic kisses are always my cup of tea!

Related Posts

Emma Bovary: A lesson in happiness – other 19th century literature

Sources and Relevant Links

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855) – read online

North and South (2004) – the mini-series

Richard Armitage Online – about his role as Mr Thornton

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On the weekend I went to see a movie – a rare occurrence for me! This superb piece of theatrical eye-candy was A Royal Affair.

A Royal Affair (2012)

The story is based on the life of Caroline Matilda (1751-1775), a member of the British Royal Family, who married the King of Denmark, Christian VII, in 1766.

The marriage was, unfortunately, an unhappy one, with the King rejecting his new wife soon after their marriage in favour of various courtesans. He was also mentally unstable, which made his behaviour irregular and difficult to tolerate. Nevertheless, in 1768 Caroline bore him a son, Prince Frederick, who would later inherit the throne.

Christian and Doctor Struensse

After an extended period of travel during 1768-9, the King returned to Copenhagen with a new German physician, Doctor Johann Struensse. He was a believer in the Enlightenment that was currently spreading through Europe, and brought his new ideas to a very conservative Denmark. Struensse used his influence over the King to bring about various reforms to the country, which culminated with the King dissolving the Council and installing Struensse as a Privy Councillor. In this role, the Doctor brought about numerous changes to the country in the interests of moving Denmark “forward” to be in line with the rest of Europe.

By 1770, Struensse and Caroline were having an affair. In 1771, Caroline bore her second child, Louise Augusta. Whilst she was most probably the child of Struensse, she was considered a Princess of Denmark throughout her life.

Doctor Struensse and Caroline

Once the affair became open knowledge, the King signed an arrest warrant for both Struensse and Caroline. Caroline was imprisoned, divorced and then deported, and Struensse was executed for treason. Caroline never saw her children again, and died of scarlet fever at aged 23.

With the absence of Struensse, the King was declared unable to rule and his step-mother and her son (also a Prince Frederick) installed a Regency, reversing the changes that Struensse had made. Interestingly, Caroline’s son took back the throne in 1784 in a coup and became the new Regent until the King’s death in 1808. During this time, he was successful in introducing a wide range of liberal reforms characterised by the Enlightenment period.

The movie was subtitled, as it was spoken in Danish, but this just added to its charm. From what I can discover, the movie is quite historically accurate, although the characterisation of Struensse as idealistic rather than ambitious could be considered contentious. Aside from the fact that true stories NEVER have happy endings, I really enjoyed it! The costumes were divine, and the photography was fantastic as well.

Period movies are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

Hogarth: Marriage A-la Mode – Marriage in England in the eighteenth century

Panniers: An 18th Century reproduction of a Sacque-back Dress – Fashions in the eighteenth century

Sources and Relevant Links

A Royal Affair – the movie

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Jane Austen wrote an unpublished manuscript around 1795-ish (about the same time as Sense and Sensibility) called Lady Susan. For a description of the original story, you can read my post, Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

In 2005, Jane Rubino and her daughter, Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, rewrote this story as a novel and called it Lady Vernon and Her Daughter. As Lady Susan had been written in a very 18th Century manner, these authors attempted to update the story as Jane Austen may have done if she had revisited it in her lifetime. That is, they tried to make it more like a Regency romance, rather than an 18th Century moralist tale.

In order to do this, the story has been changed quite remarkably from its original, making use of the idea that the way people present themselves to others is not always an accurate representation of who they really are.

Lady Susan was originally portrayed by Jane Austen as a manipulative, controlling and seductive woman, willing to use other people ruthlessly to obtain her own ends. In contrast, Lady Vernon is portrayed as a misunderstood woman who is fiercely maligned and gossiped about by her so-called friends and family.

So, what Jane Austen represented as fact in her story, these authors have represented as hearsay. Lady Vernon still has a reputation as a manipulative controlling person, but those closest to her – like her daughter, Frederica, and her childhood friend, Sir James – know that this is not really her.

There is something really wrong – in my mind – about changing the plots of historical literature! In fact, I even struggle watching movie adaptations of historical literature because of the changes that are made to the story line. When I first began reading this book, I really hated the way the plot had been changed. It was really difficult for me to like Lady Vernon as a character – as the authors evidently wanted me to do -, especially because Jane Austen had originally not intended this character to be liked.

That being said, once I had struggled epically through half of the book (trying not to lose the motivation to finish reading it!), I began to appreciate the clever twist to the original story.

As Lady Susan was originally a epistolary novel (a novel made up of largely of letters to and from each of the characters), it is quite plausible that the characters may not have represented the truth to each other. It is even plausible that Susan may not have represented her own motives or personality accurately in her own letters. It is this plausibility that Lady Vernon and her Daughter hinges on, using it to twist the original story. So, the motives and personalities of each of the main characters are inverted. Good becomes bad, and bad becomes good. Close friendships become distant, and distant acquaintances become best friends.  Those who were deceived are now in possession of the whole truth, and vice versa.

One of my main criticisms of this book (aside from the unsettling changes to the original plot) is the level of character development. I got quite lost at the beginning of the story, finding it quite difficult to understand the different characters and how they differed from each other. This was probably exacerbated because of the plot changes. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I really settled into the story and felt I knew the characters well.

To anyone thinking of reading this book, I would recommend to also read Lady Susan (either before or afterwards), as it does make the appreciation of the book richer.

Have you read this novel? What did you think of it? How does it compare to Lady Susan?

Related Posts

Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella

Sources and Relevant Links

Lady Vernon and her Daughter (2005), by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – buy online

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – read online

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