Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In which Jane Austen illusions are shattered

Fota House near Cork
Happy days. The first session of a Jane Austen class. An evening class in the morning if you will. And just to give us all the right ambience, the venue is Fota House, a stately home near Cork. Mainly ladies of a certain age, plus two blokes of a certain age of which I'm one. It's called “Austen’s World in Novels and Film” and it caught my attention because one of the three films we're going to look at just happens to be my all time favourite: Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility.

Emma Thompson as Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, 1995
Today we did Jane Austen’s world and Regency England. Jane Austen’s well-known opposition to the slave trade came up. But disappointingly for Jane Austen fans, well-known though this opposition might be, it turns out to be well-known on rather slender evidence. One sentence namely in Mansfield Park where the (slightly annoying though that’s not the point here) heroine Fanny Price has her attempt to raise the slave trade as a dinner table topic rebuffed with a general silence.

Another illusion gone: it turns out the famous portrait of Jane Austen may not be a very good likeness. “Hideously unlike” according to a niece. Actually it gets worse. The portrait we are all familiar with is a later copy of the one panned as hideously unlike. 

A copy from an original which was itself “hideously unlike”

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