strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
I did enjoy this, but by the time I got to about chapter 9, I began to feel that it didn't quite have the same depth and complexity as the other Austen novels I've read to date: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I wondered whether this might be because it was an earlier effort that the other two, and when I checked, this turned out to be true - although she actually also wrote Pride and Prejudice between her original draft of S&S and the final, and significantly revised, published version, so things are a bit more complicated than their publication dates alone would suggest.

Compared to Austen's other novels, even the main characters here feel rather like stereotypes, and although Marianne in particular does develop over the course of the novel, it is not a particularly surprising or challenging course of development. The three men who become involved in the sisters' lives also seem rather deficient from a 21st-century point of view. Willoughby is a slimy, lying bastard, Edward Ferrars is as dull as ditchwater, and Colonel Brandon is self-centred and manipulative. I'm particularly curious as to whether Austen meant Willoughby's 'explanation' of his behaviour towards Marianne to sound convincing or reasonable. Since the sister who represents 'Sense' is swayed by it, I can only assume so, but to me it read like the worst kind of back-pedalling worming - the sort of stuff which the Sex and the City girls would see straight through. Then again, the entire plot revolves around social norms which Carrie and her friends would laugh at, so it's hardly fair to hold it up to the same standards.

The social satire and humour I associate with Austen is definitely here, though. I especially enjoyed Mr. Palmer and his wife as comic characters, although that view may be partly influenced by Hugh Laurie's brilliant performance as Mr. Palmer in the film. I also found myself wondering, in the light of Clueless, how this novel would play as a high school drama - and I think the answer is extremely well. Compared to most adult women today, the concerns and priorities of Austen's characters do appear rather green and teenaged, and if marriage to a man of fortune is only replaced by an invite to the prom date from a member of the high-school band, football team or whatever, the rest of the plot continues to work pretty well.

Finally, I owe an apology to the author of An American Boy. I complained when I read that about what seemed to me the over-done mannerism of writing all street-names in the format 'Wellington-terrace' instead of 'Wellington Terrace', feeling that it was a case of trying too hard to evoke a period feel. But it really is exactly what Jane Austen does with total consistency throughout this book - along with other idiosyncratic spellings like 'chuse', 'shew' and most interestingly 'our's' and 'her's'. I like that last one particularly, because it is one in the eye for the people who seem to believe that there was once a Golden Age of spelling in which everyone knew exactly how to use an apostrophe. I fear there never was - but I also believe that is no reason not to try to create one in the present.

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strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
Read mainly while in Vienna.

This would be the third Hardy novel I've read in my life: the other two being Tess of the D'Urbervilles for A-level, and Jude the Obscure when I first moved to Oxford. The trajectory of the title character is much the same in all three cases: they make a foolish mistake in early life, appear to bounce back from it, enjoy a period of happiness and / or prosperity, find to their cost that their early mistake is not so inescapable as they thought, and finally die in ignominy and despair. This is, of course, a classic tragic plot as the ancient Greeks would have recognised it: much the same happens, for example, to Sophocles' Oedipus.

Some people find this sort of stuff depressing, but personally I love it. If there's one thing tragedies certainly have it is Romance. Like a crumbling ancient ruin, they speak eloquently of the vanity of human endeavour and the transience of life and worldly success: and the lapsed Goth in me can't get enough of that. Hardy's tragedies, though, have a lot more to them than forehead-stapling. I remember being struck when we read Tess at school by how cleverly he wove symbols and metaphors out of the landscapes which his characters move around: and this was very much true again here. His well-defined secondary characters, observations of human nature and rich vocabulary only add to the pleasure.

Around the time I started reading this book, I found out that Ciarán Hinds had starred as the eponymous Mayor (Michael Henchard) in a 2003 TV adaptation of the story - I think because I also saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day around the same time, and was browsing through his IMDb page in the wake of that. I haven't seen the adaptation, but just knowing that made me see the character of Henchard with his features all the time I was reading - and in my brain at least, he put in an excellent performance!

So, just as watching Brideshead has made me all the more determined to read the book, reading this has inspired me to hunt down the TV series. It's all good.

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strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
IMDb page here.

Just a quick write-up of this before I go to bed.

The trailers promised a 'fresh look' at Forster's novel, and to a degree this was true. Mr. Beebe was played as explicitly gay (well, as explicitly gay as anyone can be in Edwardian England), which I don't think is true of his character in the 1985 version with Helena Bonham-Carter. And actually Elaine Carter rather outshone the latter as Lucy Honeychurch. Somehow, when characters around her said how wonderful she was, and how exciting it would be for everybody when she at last began to live, it was actually quite believable in her case. She played her many confusions very convincingly, and her piano more truly passionately, whereas Helena Bonham-Carter sometimes came across as simply petulant. In fact, now I come to think of it, the portrayals of Cecil Vyse, George Emerson and Mr. Emerson were all profoundly human and believable, too - and if Sinéad Cusack annoyed me as Eleanor Lavish, and Sophie Thompson as Charlotte Bartlett, that probably just shows they were doing their jobs well, as those characters are supposed to be annoying.

But something was lacking, and I suspect it was the subtle artifice of Forster's novel. His characters are beautifully delineated, and his plot smooth yet inevitable. You couldn't call either of them unrealistic. But each character stands for something specific, as does each place, and what's being played out isn't entirely a drama between individuals but a drama between attitudes and ideas. And that felt lost in this production - especially given the rather bizarre ending they tagged onto it. Far from the story coming full circle, so that Lucy and George offer their rooms with a view to another young girl on the brink of self-discovery, we see a few brief and steamy sex scenes between the two of them, then him lying dead in a First World War bomb-crater, and finally her returning to Florence to take up with the Italian carriage-driver who had propelled her into the arms of George Emerson in the first place. I'm sure it's a very literal representation of Lucy's emancipation. But it doesn't convey the sense that her story is only representative of a wider, continuous truth that Forster's ending does.

I'm also sorry that, by forswearing the captions used in the 1985 film, my favourite chapter heading from the entire book (which practically tells the whole story in itself) did not appear on screen:
"The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them."
A worthy use of an evening, but what it's really made me do is want to read the book again. Which just ain't possible right now with so many other things queuing up to be read.

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