Friday, 23 April 2010

Thoughts on Bright Star: Between romantic poetry and Jane Austen

Laurel Anne's post on Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine reminded me that Bright Star had been sitting on top of my tv for some time, and that it was time to watch it. Bright Star is the story of the doomed poet John Keats' (Ben Whishaw) relationship with his next door neighbor Frances/Fanny Brawne (Abby Cornish).

Having seen Jane Campion's The Piano some years since, I knew this was not going to be steamy fast-moving romance. The music of the opening credits sets the tone of the film, and that never wavers: quiet, dignified, beautiful and poignet.

For those of us used to watching Jane Austen adaptations, the film is a feast for the eyes -- particularly at the beginning when Fanny channels all her creative instincts into creating one lavish costume after the other. The outdoor shots are heavenly (literally, if we are following Keats' poetry) particularly the spring shots. They are especially delightful when we see things through Keats' eye: whether it's 'Ode to a Nightingale' as we hear birds sing, "My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk," or the superb shot of Keats "floating" on a tree full of blossoms.

There are echoes of Jane Austen in the film. Fanny's supreme self-assurance at the beginning is reminiscent of Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma, and I couldn't help comparing Margaret/Toots (Edie Martin), Fanny's sister, to another Margaret in Sense and Sensibility. (Is it just me, seeing Jane Austen everywhere, but doesn't the still on the left remind you of Jane Austen's portrait?) The restraint of the lovers is also reminiscent of Jane Austen, though there is no smouldering Mr Darcy here. This is where the film departs from Austen. The romance itself is not played out Jane Austen style. After all, it's about a Romantic poet, and the poetry speaks for itself

In this sense the film captures beautifully the often confusing tension in Regency England between the new wave of Romanticism -- the cult of nature and stormy passion -- and the ideals of Reason and Wit which were still highly valued by society, and which Jane Austen embodies to a large extent.
Jane Campion makes this explicit by having Fanny argue at the beginning that she is more interested in wit than in poetry. The transformation that comes over Fanny as she moves from one to the other is reflected in her costumes; her elegant, crisp, and carefully crafted outfits gradually become looser, with large floppy shirt collars, looser hair and more down-to-earth clothing.
(I'm wondering if the hat that gave Georgiana so much grief in The Darcy Cousins wasn't something like this?)

Jane Campion also captures a specific aspect of Romanticism that is reflected in many of the romantics' works -- their obsession with death, a particularly poignent aspect of their writing since several of the major romantic poets died young: Keats at 25, Shelley at 32, Byron at 36.

Most moving, I thought, was how the film doesn't shy away from showing the raw and absolute nature of poverty. However much we might want the lovers to be together, we know that the grinding poverty John Keats faces is a destructive force, and very different from the genteel 'poverty' Fanny is used to.

A film well worth seeing for the wonderful way it converts the Romantic sensibility into images, and for a love story that will cost you a box of tissues.

Click to see a trailer of Bright Star.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Other Mr Darcy now available on Kindle, and Volcanic Ash

Just discovered that The Other Mr Darcy is back on Kindle again. I know some of you were asking about that. The Darcy Cousins, by the way, is already on Kindle.

The big story in the UK now is the Volcanic Ash that is descending upon us. It's certainly ironic that this happened just after my last post! I promise you I can't predict volcanic eruptions, though I did once have an incident in which I "predicted" an earthquake.

I was living in Corvallis, Oregon, at the time. I was supposed to meet a friend of mine for our regular brisk walk, but when she called me to agree on the time, I told her I wasn't up to it.
"I don't know what it is," I said. "I feel kind of shakey, as if the ground is unsteady under my feet. I don't feel good at all."
My friend laughed. "That's the worst excuse to get out of exercise I've heard yet!"
I protested that it was true, but I couldn't quite explain it.

That night when I was sleeping, I woke to the sound of rattling objects. I turned on the light. My books on the shelves had moved, and several of them had fallen (of course, I'd look at my books first!). I was puzzled, but since nothing else happened, I shrugged and went back to sleep.

The next day my friend woke me up with a excited phone call and told me there had been a mild earthquake the night before. "I can't believe it! You know, you can make a fortune, being able to predict earthquakes before they happen."

I don't know if I can, since I've never been in an earthquake again, very fortunately.

Meanwhile, I'm daily awaiting one of two things: the ash itself, which has already fallen on numerous communities in Scotland, and the spectacular sunsets painted by Turner and featured in The Darcy Cousins.

It's oddly silent outside. There is the constant rumble of traffic, of course, but I didn't realize how much the thundering of airplanes intrudes on the corner of our consciousness. I live about 45 minutes from Heathrow and about 20 minutes from Gatwick, and although planes rarely take a direct route overhead they're still always there, somewhere in the distance. Now with all the airplanes grounded, the skies are soundless. When there are no cars passing by, the silence is eery, reminiscent of by-gone times.

I wonder how many other things intrude on our consciousness without us noticing, and we become aware of them only when they're absent? That's if we don't think of all the unseen and unheard things that pass through us and around us -- microwaves, satelite signals, ultraviolate rays, and all the sounds that are just beyond our hearing.

Meanwhile, I wait for the ash to descend, and for the airplanes to ascend again. Their absence seems like a loss. I want them again, hovering above me like great birds, taking people across the world to their various destinations -- holidays, new beginnings, escapes, tragic events, and mundane business trips -- the spectrum of human emotions flying above us like self-sufficient worlds.

The Day the Planes Stood Still.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Snowy Peaks and Volcanic Eruptions: The Year Without Summer

I heartily beg your forgiveness for this lamentable lapse in blogging. I would like to remind you that though I am not blogging here, I am blogging elsewhere, so you can still enjoy my insightful and witty remarks ;-) if you follow my blog tour (dates and locations on the right).

Meanwhile, I'd like to share some photos from a trip I made to Switzerland (you may remember that I have a 100 year old grandmother that lives there) since I can't resist it. Nothing to do with Austen, though there is a strong Regency connection, since Byron and the Shelleys spend the summer of 1816 in Switzerland.

Unfortunately, it was a very unpleasant summer because it was the notorious "year without summer". A cold spell hit the northern atmosphere after Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, sending debris into the atmosphere resulting in weather chaos. Crops failed, leading to food shortages, famine, and riots. The flooding and the cold led to the spread of disease as well.

It was in Switzerland, on a dark and stormy night, with the gloomy weather preying on her, that Mary Shelley penned her famous Frankenstein. Imagine Frankenstein's famous monster in the cold snowy peaks above. They look quite beautiful now, don't they? At the time though, the snow was a source of misery for thousands, not only in Europe, but in the Northeast of America and Quebec as well, where thousands of farmers faced financial failure and were forced to migrate.

It is certainly a very good thing The Darcy Cousins is set the year before, otherwise it would have been quite impossible for Georgiana and Clarissa to enjoy rowing on the river or visit the ruins of Waverley Abbey.