Search this Blog

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Elinor and Marianne in the 21st Century

I’ve never been a fan of reading sequels to Jane Austen’s novels, as I feel that they simply don’t do justice to her writing. However, as I was reading Sense and Sensibility the other day, I couldn’t help but visualise what Elinor and Marianne would be like, had Jane Austen set the novel in the 21st Century. I will now share some of the ideas that came to me.

First of all, the modern-day Elinor and Marianne would certainly have pursued careers. Perhaps their characters would have been older, too, as marriages nowadays rarely take place during the late teens as they do in the novel.


Image from:

Houses and homes are an important theme throughout Sense and Sensibility. Elinor, who has plenty of common sense and is the first to take an initiative to find a suitable family home for the Dashwoods, might have made a good estate agent. She would have good business acumen and, although she might not make much money as an estate agent, she would be able to live comfortably within her means, being so economical and wise. On the other hand, she might make a good architect, too, what with her excellent skills at sketching.


Marianne, on the other hand, being a dreamer and an artistic soul, might be less practical about her career choices. Perhaps the modern-day Marianne would dream of the career of a singer/songwriter, living on very little but loving her freedom. I visualise her living in a small but quaint flat in a romantic, leafy area, where she would spend her evenings playing her guitar and singing melancholy love songs. 

Greg Wise

                                               Image from:

John Willoughby would probably have a penchant for fast motorbikes with which he would impress the modern-day girls, taking them on wild rides around the countryside. This modern scoundrel who would drift from one girl to another, would not be a hard-worker in the traditional sense and would probably earn his money by making risky investments in the stock market.


Image from:

The more laid-back Edward Ferrars, on the other hand, would be unlikely to have a well-payed, fashionable job and would live in a less fancy area. He might be a struggling academic living within modest means on a university campus and drive an old Fiat.


Image from:

The middle-aged Colonel Brandon – or simply known as Brandon – would be well-to-do and in an established position, perhaps a business man with plenty of work experience behind him. He would have worked abroad and seen much of the world, and live in a comfortable house of his own…

…I could go on!

Have you ever tried imagining any of Jane Austen’s heroes living in the modern day and age and if so, what did you visualise them to be like?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Metropolitan Youth Under the Guidance of Jane Austen

Metropolitan, a film directed by Whit Stillman in 1990, is said to be loosely based on Mansfield Park. Therefore it may come as no surprise that I was keen to see how one of my favourite novels has inspired a modern film-maker.


Like Mansfield Park, Metropolitan is a comedy of manners, but it is a modern take, set amongst a group of upper-class urban youth in Manhattan. A group of young girls and men are on holiday from college and get together for the debutante season. Dressed in smocks and white ruffles, they attend formal ball room parties and after parties at each others’ houses and get into intense discussions on social status and mobility.

Nick Smith, a Harvard student, introduces Tom Townsend, a less well-off Princeton student, to the group as an escort for the girls. One of the girls, Audrey Rouget, is soon charmed by his nonconformist views and strong principles. However, like Mansfield park, Metropolitan is largely a story of unrequited love. While Audrey – our modern day Fanny – likes Tom, Tom - as our Edmund - is obsessed with his not-so-faithful ex-girlfriend, Serena Slocum. It takes a few twists and turns before Tom realises that Audrey is what Serena will never be – a good person with strong morals who truly cares about him.


Interestingly, Audrey is a great fan of Jane Austen. She tells Tom that her two favourite books are Mansfield Park and Persuasion. To her dismay, Tom – without ever having read the book – disagrees with her.

“Mansfield Park…is a notoriously bad book”. “The whole story revolves around the immorality of a group of youngsters putting on a play.” “The context of the novel, and nearly everything that Jane Austen wrote looks ridiculous from today’s perspective.”


To this, Audrey argues back,

“Has it ever occurred to you that today, from Jane Austen’s perspective, would look even worse?”

Tom continues to say what the literary critic, Lionel Trilling, says about Austen:

“No one would like the heroine of Mansfield Park.”

Audrey aptly argues,

“Do modern people resent Mansfield Park because its heroine is virtuous?”

To Audrey’s relief, Tom later gets round to reading some Jane Austen and tells her that he “liked” Persuasion and was “surprised” at it being so good!

While the story is only very loosely based on Mansfield Park, Jane Austen is always there in the background as a strong moral backbone for the youngsters. Amongst the girls and young men, there is a conflict between what constitutes right and wrong behaviour, and who is a good person and who is not.  The film has its Austenesque romantic seducer-villain, Rick Von Sloneker, who stands as a rival to the men. The men are convinced that he is not a good person and are desperate to show this the girls, rushing off to rescue them from his charms. Mansfield Park is the most moralistic of all of Jane Austen’s novels, and this moral tone carries on to Metropolitan as well. 


What Audrey sees at a shop window…

In the novel, Fanny is against setting up a play, “Lover’s Vows”, as she feels that  it may not be a good influence during Sir Thomas’s absence. In the film, the others suggest playing a game of “Truth”, while Audrey is strongly against playing it. Like Fanny, she morally argues against it:

“There are good reasons why people don’t go around telling people their most intimate thoughts… I just know that games like this can be really dangerous”.

Incidentally, it is Audrey who has to give in and who, in the end, suffers from the consequences of “Truth”.

The screenplay is an excellent  take on Austenesque dry wit and clever dialogue, and Nick Smith’s sarcastic remarks - in a style not unlike Woody Allen’s - are particularly enjoyable. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call Metropolitan an adaptation of Jane Austen, I would say that it is a comedy of manners and morals in the style of Jane Austen with plenty of references to her work.

Have you seen Metropolitan, and if yes, and what was your impression?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Fashion Revolution of 1795

In her blog Austen Only, Julie  Wakefield recently wrote an intriguing article, analysing whether Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility from 1896 were accurate, as they portray Jane Austen’s characters dressed in the old, pre-revolution fashions. Fascinated by the fashion of Jane Austen’s time, the article inspired me to look into of the changing fashions of the time.

At around the time when Jane Austen was 20 years old and writing her first great novels, social change brought about a great change in fashion, too. 1794-1795 was a turbulent time in Europe, with the French revolution shaking the foundations of feudal society and with it, the upper classes.  Marie Antoinette preferred the simpler ‘English’ styles to the prevailing fashion of ornate gowns and hoops, which she hated wearing. Rousseau agreed with the more casual styles, as these were viewed to be more ‘democratic’, and this also encouraged the shift in style. 


         Napoleon’s wife Josephine in an empire dress. Image from Wikipedia.

With France at the forefront of European fashion, the social change in France had a marked influence on fashion all across Europe. During these years, fashions shifted from the large, hooped, frilly styles to easy flowing, thin silhouettes. Fashion reverted back to the classical, neo-Grecian style, emulating the democratic republics of the ancient world. Marie Antoinette was the first person to embrace the so-called ‘empire style’ in dress, which was soon adopted by gentry and nobility all over.

The 20-year-old Jane – and her characters – probably underwent these changes, although we fail to see this in the more recent film adaptations of her novels, which tend to display only the newer Regency fashions.

This engraving by Chataignier from 1797 shows the contrast between old and new fashions, the followers of new fashion mocking the old “Oh! What relics!” and the more conservative dressers disapproving of the new “Oh! What a foolish new fashion!”

Quelle Antiquite!

                                                                                      Image from the British Museum.

The new styles brought great relief to ladies, as the tightly-laced corsets and hoops were abandoned and the dresses had a more comfortable, natural flow to them. The gowns were short-sleeved, made of soft, thin muslins, which were tied with a ribbon right below the bosom.  Underwear consisted of simple petticoats and cotton bodices. Men ridiculed the fashions, as the natural waistline had disappeared and the shape of the body was largely hidden below the chest; however, the new fashion was welcome to women, as it was less restricting and easy flowing, the footwear was more comfortable and the hairstyles were easier to manage.

While the old fashion had men and women wearing buckled, heeled shoes, the new fashion introduced flat shoes for ladies, which resemble the modern ballerina slipper. For men, boots were in fashion.  This caricature contrasts the hoop-skirts and high-heeled shoes of 1742 with the high-waisted narrow skirts and flat shoes of 1794.


Image from Wikipedia.

The gowns before the Revolution were heavily ornamented, with plenty of ruffles and bows adorning the dress. The ornamentation changed into simple designs, and the empire dress would nearly always be white and often transparent, at the most embroidered with intricate patterns.

                                                  The changing silhouette:

                                                              A hooped ornamented dress.

                                                                                             Delicate muslin gowns.

                                                                         (Images taken at the Fashion Museum in Bath). 

As the earlier fashion was characterised by large silhouettes, the hairstyles were large as well. Hair was gathered in a huge pyramid, backcombed, powdered and decorated with ornaments. On top of the pyramid, there might be a tall hat as well. The men, on the other hand, would either wear a wig, or wear their powdered hair long, clubbed with a black ribbon to hold the pigtail. All this changed when a tax on hair-powder was introduced in 1795, and men would gradually move towards cropped hairstyles. Women, on the other hand, now preferred shorter hair with loose curls around the face. Instead of large hats, long ostrich feathers were worn to display high status for evening gatherings.

For men, it was a time of more masculinity in style. It was goodbye to white stockings and buckled shoes, and hello to a more outdoors, sporty style suited to an active life in the countryside. While the earlier fashion placed a great deal of importance to shirts, with lace ruffles on the front and in the cuffs, shirts were now less important and neck-cloths were more prominent. Men would wear long riding coats with long tails, and breeches lengthened into skin-tight pantaloons tucked into boots. Later on, the fashion guru of the time, Beau Brummell, introduced trousers, and there was no going back. The new style was complete with stylish top hats, which emerged later in the period. 

         Towards a more natural style:

V&A Men's Dress

A man’s outfit from 1790. Image from V&A.


                     A model of a Regency outfit.

     Image taken at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.

Predictably, there was a generation gap between those who sported the new styles with enthusiasm and those who disapproved of the new fashions, preferring to cling to the fashions of their youth. While we may assume that the characters from Jane Austen’s later novels - Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion – certainly followed the new style, the characters from the earlier novels – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey – written in 1795-6, 1796-7 and 1798 respectively – will almost certainly have portrayed a mixture of old and new fashion. The older, more conservative and rustic characters would have stuck to the old fashions, while the younger, more fashionable characters would have proudly embraced the new styles.


References and further reading:

  • Downing, S.J. (2010) Fashion In the Time of Jane Austen. Shire Library.

This book gives a very interesting and useful introduction, with a clear outline of the fashion in the time of Jane Austen and excellent images.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Notebook Win!

I was the lucky one to win this beautiful notebook from Raquel Sallaberry’s one-year anniversary Giveaway Contest on Jane Austen Today. The notebook has been handmade by Raquel Sallaberry to celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility.

The cover beautifully captures the famous scene from Sense and Sensibility where Willoughby rescues Marianne after she falls in the rain and hurts her foot.


“A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Marianne, when her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in the fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services, and perceiving that her modesty declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without farther delay, and carried her down the hill.”

Sense and Sensibility p. 31


There was also a ribbon bookmark that came with the notebook.

Thank you, Raquel and Vic!

Friday, April 8, 2011

“Weep You No More Sad Fountains…”

I loved the soundtrack of Sense and Sensibility 1995, and when I came across the CD at a jumble sale, I just had to buy it.

Now I don’t usually listen to instrumental music, but this score really touched me. Having listened to it, I understood why Ang Lee’s adaptation stands out from the rest – good music really does arouse various strong feelings in you while you are watching a film.

Patrick Doyle’s orchestrated version perfectly follows the moods of the characters throughout the film, reminding me of the various scenes, whether happy or sad…


You can get a taster of all the tracks here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

They lived happily ever after… and then?

As we all know, Jane Austen’s heroes and heroines all had their share of happy endings (and the villains perhaps less happy ones, deservedly). Although Jane Austen never wrote sequels to her novels and gave little indication of what would happen to her characters after the wedding, she is known to have shared these little secrets with her close friends and family, such as her nephews and nieces.

Let’s have a look at these intriguing nibbles of information!


Sense and Sensibility

Ann Steele, Lucy Steele’s older sister, who can’t stop talking about the eligible Dr Davies, never managed to catch him in the end.


Pride and Prejudice

One of the foolish younger Bennet sisters, Kitty, ended up marrying a clergyman near Pemberley, being close to Elizabeth and enjoying a wider, classier social circle.

The plain younger sister, Mary, married one of Uncle Phillips’ clerks and was content with the small social circle of Meryton.



Mr Woodhouse continued to live for 2 years after Emma’s marriage, keeping Emma and Mr Knightley from settling down at Donwell Abbey until then.

While playing the alphabet game that irritated many of those present, Frank Churchill placed some letters in front of Jane Fairfax, which she brushed aside in anguish, without reading them. These letters contained the word ‘pardon’.

The weak, poorly Jane Fairfax only lived for another 9-10 years after her wedding, succumbing to tuberculosis. 


Mansfield Park  

Aunt Norris played by Anna Massey Image

The ‘considerable amount’ of money given by the insufferable Mrs Norris to Fanny’s brother, William, was one pound.

Edmund Bertramplayed by Nicholas FarrellWilliam Priceplayed by Allan Hendrick

Jane Austen had a high regard for her heroes and felt that they were of higher calibre than the real men of her acquaintance. Edmund Bertram was along with Emma’s Mr Knightley, one of her two favourite characters.  “They are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are”, she described (A Memoir, p. 118).

                                              *                      *                       *

Unfortunately, Jane Austen never got to share her secrets of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, as these novels were published after her death and those close to her never had the chance to give their views to the author.

If you had had the chance to meet Jane Austen, what would you have asked her about her characters?



Austen-Leigh, J-E. (2002). A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections. Oxford World Classics.

Le Faye, D. (2002) Jane Austen – The World of Her Novels. Frances Lincoln.


Images from: