Search this Blog

Monday, May 30, 2011

From Prada to Nada (or From Riches to Rags)


Just as I was writing about how I imagined a modern Elinor and Marianne to be, I had the chance to see a modern adaptation of Sense and Sensibility – From Prada to Nada. As opposed to rural Devon, this light comedy, directed by Angel Gracia, is set amongst the palm trees of modern L.A.

The opening scene shows two Mexican-American sisters, Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary (Alexa Vega), out shopping designer-style. They drive into their Beverly Hills mansion, where their father is celebrating his birthday. But – as we already know – he is soon to die and the two sisters are ousted from their home, following the arrival of their (illegitimate) brother, Gabe (Pablo Cruz).


Shopaholic Mary (Marianne)


Studious Nora (Elinor)

The girls find a new place to live with their aunt and other relatives, on the other side of town. You get to see a totally different side of L.A. to what we are used to seeing in films and on TV. The Mexican East L.A. is an L.A. of immigrants and the proletariat, shabby and run-down - but also vibrant, colourful, noisy and full of life.


From this setting…


…to this ‘hood.

Enter Edward Ferris (Nicholas D’Agosto), brother of her sister-in-law and a well-to-do lawyer  - a less awkward version of Edward Ferrars without the imposing family connections. He soon becomes interested in law student Nora who, however, has a “10-year plan” for life and is not interested in a relationship – or so she thinks.


Nora and Edward

The younger sister, Mary, is soon swept off her feet by Rodrigo (Kuno Becker), her charming teacher of literature – love over literature, as with Marianne and Willoughby – who of course turns out to be the villain of the story.


Mary with Rodrigo

What makes this storyline less convincing is the fact that this version of Colonel Brandon, helpful neighbour Bruno (Wilder Walderrama), is actually far more charming and attractive than Rodrigo. (You might remember Walderrama from his silly role as Fez in the 70’s Show – in From Prada To Nada, however, he acts well and has plenty of charm.)


Nora with Bruno

As one might expect from a modern adaptation, the roles of the two sisters differ somewhat from the novel. While Mary (Marianne) is portrayed as snobbish and super-confident, Nora (Elinor) is the opposite - down-to-earth and hesitant. You would not describe them as ‘emotional’ vs. ‘reserved’ as  you might characterise the polarities of the characters in the novel.


From Prada to Nada is a light take on Sense and Sensibility, which certainly doesn’t match up to the wit of Jane Austen. A harmless chick flick, it is a pleasant enough watch, as long as you don’t expect a mind-blowing artistic experience. After a bimbo beginning, the film does get more enjoyable towards  the end, thanks to the colourful Mexican flavour – though I would have preferred having “less cheese on my nachos”!

Looking forward to seeing Scents and Sensibility next…

Monday, May 16, 2011

The King’s and Queen’s Baths


During the Georgian and Regency times, people believed in the curative effect of hot springs. In Bath, water had been pumped from the city’s hot springs since the Roman times, and visiting Bath became especially popular during the Georgian era.

In addition to drinking the healing Bath water at the Pump Room, many people liked to bathe in the hot springs. Around the corner from the Pump Room, as part of the same building, stand the King’s and Queen’s Baths, which were amongst the most popular bathing places in Bath. The Austen family were known to frequent these Baths during their stay in Bath. 

The King’s Baths were built on the foundations of the Roman Baths as early as in the 12th Century. In the 16th Century, the Queen’s Baths were built on the south side of the building. The Baths were mixed with the exception of the Queen’s Baths, which admitted women only.

The interiors of the King’s and Queen’s Baths resemble the baths at the Roman Baths Museum (as below).


The style of bathing has changed somewhat throughout the centuries… during the Georgian times, men were dressed in shirts and drawers while the ladies were clad in a linen shift. The ladies and gentlemen, with water up to their necks, would wade through the warm water and mingle.

You might remember the haunting scene from (the equally haunting film) Northanger Abbey (1986) where Catherine visits the Baths and meets Ms Tilney for the first time.

Catherine meets Ms Tilney while bathing.


The King’s and Queen’s Baths were used for bathing until 1939, after which the Baths have been closed, as it is now considered unhealthy to bathe in the waters, for fear of infection. 

You can read more about the history of the King’s and Queen’s Baths at the following sites:

King’s Baths

City of Bath

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Made Willoughby a Scoundrel?


Austen’s villains, such as Willoughby, could be considered villains even by our modern-day standards. Willoughby was a man who abandoned girl after girl for want of a richer bride. But what was it that made Willoughby a scoundrel by the standards of Regency society, and resulted in a scandal?


                                                               Images from:

In Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester writes that it was acceptable for a Regency gentleman to have several affairs before and after marriage, as long as he played the part of a responsible husband and father. “Only a scoundrel…would stoop to seducing a respectable girl of good family and subsequently deserting her and their bastard child. …society perceived his sin not in having fathered an illegitimate infant or having multiple affairs but in his not providing for the child.” (p.48)

So, according to the rules of Regency society, it was just about acceptable for a man to be a libertine, but not to ignore his moral duty, which is what ultimately labelled Willoughby as a scoundrel.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rules and Etiquette of Regency Society

It is sometimes perplexing to read a Jane Austen novel as we do not always relate to the rules and customs of the period. Understanding what did and what did not constitute acceptable behaviour at the time, we can follow the plot and the character references better.

One book to shed light on the social etiquette of the time is Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, written by Jennifer Kloester. Although she writes with specific reference to Georgette Heyer’s novels, we can equally well use this book as a guide to the world of Jane Austen. 

Here is an interesting and helpful list of rules and etiquette in Regency Society, from Chapter 8.

  • Social connections were usually formed through a series of meetings, usually beginning with morning calls to the homes of those in fashionable society.
  • Morning calls were generally undertaken in the afternoon.
  • A morning call did not usually exceed half an hour.
  • In London, a woman paid morning calls to her social equals or inferiors but not to her social superiors until they had called on her or left a card.
  • A person new to the city or country area waited for calls of ceremony to be made to them by those already established before they made a call of their own.
  • In the country it was acceptable for a man to make a call or leave a card with someone of higher social standing if they were new to the neighbourhood.
  • A gentleman calling on a family asked for the mistress of the house if the visit was a social one, and the master if it was a business call.
  • A card was left if the lady of the house was indisposed or not at home. It was acceptable for a gentleman to call on a daughter of the house if she were well above marriageable age or a long-standing friend.
  • Callers were received by men in their business room or library, by women in the morning room or in their drawing-room.
  • A lady, either married or single, did not call at a man's lodging.
  • A lady was permitted to drive her own carriage, but only about the town attended by a groom, or by herself on the family estate.
  • A lady never drove on he open road or engaged in any kind of public contest or race.
  • It was acceptable to go out riding or driving with a man as long as a groom or other chaperone was in attendance.
  • It was acceptable to go out driving or riding with a man without a chaperone if he was a relative of close family friend.
  • Galloping in Hyde Park was prohibited.
  • During the season it was essential to be seen in Hyde Park during the promenade hour of 5.00 to 6.00 pm.
  • Servants and social inferiors were always kept at a proper distance but without arrogance, pride or aloofness.
  • Servants were spoken to with exactly the right degree of civility and never with the casual informality with which a person would speak to an equal.
  • Neither a lady nor a gentleman discussed private business in the presence of servants.
  • Servants were generally ignored at mealtimes.
  • It was essential to dress for dinner.
  • When going in to dinner, the man of the house always escorted the highest-ranking lady present. The remaining dinner guests also paired up and entered the dining room in order of rank.
  • Dinner guests were seated according to rank, with the highest-ranking lady sitting on the right-hand side of the host, who always sat at the head of the table.
  • When dining informally it was acceptable to talk across or round the table.
  • At a formal dinner one did not talk across the dinner table but confined conversation to those on one's left and right.
  • Ladies were expected to retire to the withdrawing room after dinner, leaving the men to their port and their 'male' talk.
  • A hostess should never give the signal to rise from the table until everyone at the table had finished.
  • It was acceptable to offer one's snuff-box to the company but not to ask for a pinch of snuff from anyone else.
  • Overt displays of emotion were generally considered ill-bred.
  • Laughter was usually moderated in polite company, particularly among women.
  • Men could give themselves up to unrestrained mirth, provided they were in the company of other men or among women of low repute.
  • Well-bred persons controlled their features, their physical bodies and their speech when in company.
  • A lady always spoke, sat and moved with elegance and propriety.
  • A bow or curtsy was always made when meeting or speaking to royalty.
  • Children always bowed or curtsied on meeting their parents for the first time each day.
  • A bow or curtsy was executed according to the status and relationship of the person encountered and with regard to the particular circumstance.
  • A bow was made on entering or leaving a room, at the beginning and end of a dance, and on encountering any person one wished to acknowledge.
  • Debutantes did not stand up for more than two consecutive dances with the same partner.
  • Only those young ladies who were 'out' danced the waltz and then only with an acceptable partner, usually someone she already knew, or to whom she had been formally introduced.
  • Full mourning dress was worn for an appropriate period, which varied depending on the mourner's relationship to the deceased. A person did not go into society while in full mourning. Half mourning (usually grey or lilac) could be worn after an acceptable period of mourning had been observed and the mourner could choose to attend social functions but not fully particpate in them.
  • To be thought 'fast' or to show a want of conduct was the worst possible social stigma.
  • A lady never forced herself upon a man's notice.
  • No lady was to be seen driving or walking down St James's Street where several of the gentlemen's clubs were located.
  • No lady was to walk or drive unattended down Piccadilly.
  • No female was to refer to any of those male activities about which a lady should feign ignorance.
  • A husband was expected to keep his indecorous activities and less cultured friends separate from his marriage.
  • A wife was expected to be blind to her husband's affairs.
  • A married woman could take a lover once she had presented her husband with an heir and so long as she was discreet about her extramarital relationships.
  • Women were expected to be ignorant of any proposed duel.
  • A lady did not engage in any activity that might give rise to gossip.
  • Subjects of an intimate nature such as childbirth were never discussed publicly.
  • When out socially a lady did not wear a shawl for warmth no matter how cold the weather.
  • A gentleman was expected to immediately pay his gambling debts, or any debt of honour.
  • It was unacceptable to owe money to a stranger.
  • It was acceptable to owe money to a tradesperson.
  • It was considered bad form to borrow money from a woman.
  • A female did not engage in finance or commerce if she had a man, such as a husband, father or brother, to do it for her.
  • A lady did not visit a moneylender or a pawnbroker.
  • Extremes of emotion and public outbursts were unacceptable, although it could be acceptable for a woman to have the vapours, faint, or suffer from hysteria if confronted by vulgarity or an unpleasant scene.
  • A well-bred person behaved with courteous dignity to acquaintance and stranger alike, but kept at arm's length any who presumed too great a familiarity. Icy politeness was a well-bred man's or woman's best weapon in putting 'vulgar mushrooms' in their place.
  • A well-bred person maintained an elegance of manners and deportment.
  • A well-bred person walked upright, stood and moved with grace and ease.
  • A well-bred person was never awkward in either manner or behaviour and could respond to any social situation with calm assurance.
  • A well-bred person was never pretentious or ostentatious.
  • Vulgarity was unacceptable in any form and was to be continually guarded against.
  • Indiscretions, liaisons and outrageous behaviour were forgivable but vulgarity never was.