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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Live-Blogging PBS' "Jane Austen Season": Part 2, Northanger Abbey

Hi again readers fair. I am here again on my couch with my austen-loving boyfriend, and a special guest, his sister who is a fellow Austen-obsessive on the level of yours truly.

We've heard down the blogopipes that this version of Northanger Abbey is not exactly hip to Jane Austen's biting wit but that it's sort of sweet... so here goes.

For those who don't know, NA (which I just re-read) is Jane's "Gothic Parody" but more than just a send-up of the Radcliffe ouvre, it's also a very straightforward skewering of ideals of female friendship, fidelity, and social mores. The heroine of the novel, who is not suited to be a heroine, is the innocent, wide-eyed Catherine Morland, and the hero, Henry Tilney, has a charmingly ironic sense of humor.

9:01: Gillian Anderson talks about gothic novels and Jane Austen: "Shocking; is it possible to read too many novels?" answer: NO!

9:03 Andrew Davies' name just pops right up there on the screen, suggesting great heights and also sordid depths.

9:04; Catherine is so cute; her face oozes naivete.

9:06: Off to Bath--and our first extended Gothic fantasy sequence... robbers, duels, sexy bandits. Oops; turns out it was all in her head, and the only thing acting wild is Mr. Allan's gout.

9:08: When in bath... let's go shopping! It's like Sex in the Regency city.

9:11 At "The Rooms," Mr. Allan ditches the ladies for cards. The intimidating atmosphere of bath is surely too much to be borne.

9:12: Mr. Tilney is joking about various types of muslin. He has a nice dry wit. He also has such an understanding of Muslin. This is my favorite thing about him.

9:13: A dance? with me? Little old Catherine Morland?

9:14 Tilney's smirk: an expertly sarcastic smirk.

9:15 "Perhaps I don't keep a journal at all!" Cut to scene of her writing in a journal. Visual irony, folks.

9:17: Bitchy Isabella Thorpe tantalizes our innocent Catherine with stories of Lord Bryon's peccadilloes.

9:19: Dudes on the prowl stare at Isabella for the second time in five minutes; Isabella, it might be prudent to add, is clad in a very stylish [ahem! low cut] dress: "God, Bath!" say my companions.

9:20: Thorpes vs. Tilneys: there will be blood.

9:24: Putting down my computer to enjoy this for a bit... Catherine is sooo naive. She reminds me of Burney's Evelina even more on screen.

9:27: The "spot of rain" and sheep traffic jam are both so unromantic--however it doesn't seem to have turned Catherine off the novels. Now she's abandoned The Mysteries of Udolpho for "The Monk"--which, if you know anything about gothic novels, is the opposite of Anne Radcliffe: the horror to her terror, the masculine gothic to her feminine gothic, the body behind the curtain rather than the curtain behind the curtain.

9:33: I repeat: Henry Tilney is adorable! "That's a dope outfit" says my boyfriend.

9:36; The Morland siblings are a pair of naive twits, but loveable none the less.

9:39: Isabella's heart may be "40 miles away"... but her boobs are right there! And Captain Tilney is well aware of them.

9:45 The General is so intimidating that even his inviting smirk has a hint of death and mystery to it.

9:50 The shots of the abbey's exterior and exterior lead us to debate the relative merits and disadvantages of living in a regency mansion...good: four poster beds. Bad: chamber pots.

9:56: The secret of the stashed-away laundry bills... I do wish they had given us a close-up of the laundry bills themselves...

10:01: The Tilneys are the sweetest siblings eva... too bad their dad and brother are such douchebags.

10:04: Tilney is explaining his monetary situation to Catherine. This, and all the other hints and money stuff, are a bit of a deviation from the book, but it helps clue the audience in to why the general is such a dick.

10:07: Tilney isn't supposed to be this mad at her. He's breaking character. I know it's all about the narrative tension, but DAVIES!"

10:10: Oh, christ. Are we actually implying that Isabella got seduced? DAVIES!!

10:14; "He may not have killed his wife, but General Tilney is definitely an asshole."-my bf. True.

10:16: The public stagecoach--the Greyhound bus of its time.

10:19: A comforting Austen mother... so rare.

10:24:Happily ever after. Okay, so maybe his speech about ma and pa is a little emo for its time. But still.

I have to admit though that despite the mini-blasphemies, this movie totally charmed me and for the most part, I was at a loss for nasty, snarky comments to make. I thought the leads were pitch-perfect and it did a good job of following Austen's brilliant tightrope between mocking Catherine and taking her concerns seriously.

I am so happy that there's a new awesome Austen adaptation to add to the canon.
It wipes the bad taste of last week's Persuasion right outta my mouth.


  1. I liked it too. I loved whoever was playing Catherine - so naive, and yet so adorable. The dream/fantasy sequences were a bit weird, but funny as well. Tilney's smirk was perfect. Northanger Abbey has been growing on me ever since I last read it, over the summer.

  2. I was really charmed by last night's production as well, and especially Felicity Jones as Catherine come vividly to light. And I have to admit, I just kept laughing and laughing during all those Gothic fantasy scenes, where Catherine would become so overcome with giddy rapture of it all that her eyes would flutter into the back of her head.

    Next week's "Mansfield Park" should be interesting; of all the British online reviewers who have already seen it, most claim that it's the worst of these current ITV Austen productions.

  3. I put off reading this until after I was able to watch my recording of NA, and I was so hoping you were as charmed by it as I was. I mean, I clapped my hands in delight at their goofy awkwad kiss at the end. So sweet!
    I have very low expectations for next week, and might just watch this again instead...

  4. I too enjoyed this version of Northanger Abbey so much more than last week's underwhelming adaptation of Persuasion. Catherine was adorable, sweet and naive but not too terribly stupid.