Tag Archives: Regency England

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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I enjoy the version of Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy, and there are two versions of Sense and Sensibility which I appreciate. I do not know who plays who in my version of Emma, but I like that one immensely. But the version that Gwyneth Paltrow is in is terrible, just terrible – in my ‘umble opinion.

One of the things these three stories have in common is their lead players’ sharp wit. The ladies in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma all have razor tongues that cut as deeply as swords. Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy are not to be outdone by their ladies and have wits as acerbic as the girls’. Whoever suspected that verbal fencing matches could be so much fun? Nothing we have today is this cutting, this incisive, readers. It was truly an art of the time and these women were as adept at it as any samurai with his sword.

So when I saw Persuasion, I expected Anne Elliot to be just as quick-tongued as Jane Austen’s other heroines. But as the film progressed, I became disappointed, then confounded, then content. Why?

Anne is quick-witted, but she does not bite during the course of Persuasion. She hardly even barks. The middle of three daughters, Anne fell in love at a young age with a young officer named Frederic Wentworth (played by Cíaran Hinds). He proposed to her when she was nineteen but, since his financial prospects did not look good, Anne was persuaded not to marry him. She refused his offer despite the fact that she did in fact love him and he loved her.

It has been eight years since this occurred by the time Persuasion starts. Anne has been taking care of her foppish father and bratty older sister, Elizabeth, for these eight years, making her an old maid by the standards of the times. Her younger sister, Mary, is married to a Mr. Charles Musgrove and has two boys, who are unmanaged. Mary is always complaining of aches and pains, mostly so she can get her own way. She is so annoying that her husband takes every opportunity to go outdoors and hunt with his friends. Between the two of them it is not hard to see why the children are so undisciplined.

We learn at the beginning of the film that Anne’s foppish father has all but bankrupted the family, forcing him, Anne, and her older sister to “retrench.” In order to pay their debts they have to move to Bath from their country manor, which they must also rent to raise funds. A friend of Anne’s mother, the widowed Lady Russell, is the one who convinces Sir Walter Elliot that he has to move. Otherwise he would have to be dragged from the place by his heels.

Her father, Elizabeth and her companion, Mrs. Clay, depart for Bath. Poor Anne is left to prepare the house for rent, pack what the family “requires,” and then go see Mary, who says she is sick again. Neither her father nor her sister suggest they want anyone else to help with the work. They certainly do not volunteer their own time. Instead it is always Anne’s job to handle the practical matters. Elizabeth seems to hold Anne in complete contempt and there is little love lost between the sisters. The family estate, Kellynch Hall, is to be rented out to an admiral in the British Navy – whose wife happens to be the sister of Captain Frederic Wentworth.

Staying with her sister and in-laws at Upper Cross as the tenants move in, Anne ends up listening to the family’s vehement complaints about each other. Most of the Musgroves’ complaints about Mary are more than justified. Mary is as self-centered and snobby as Elizabeth, but she has less control and wit, holding Anne more as her personal lady-in-waiting than as a despicable housemaid. She is petty but on a lower level. Anne’s the only white sheep in the whole family since her mother’s death.

The best thing about Anne’s stay in Upper Cross is that it means she will not have to see Wentworth, who is coming to visit his sister.

So when her old flame turns up one day unannounced, Anne is thrilled, but also frightened. Wentworth feels somewhat the same. He still loves her, but he also does not want to get close to her. She turned him down once and he does not expect her to change her mind now. Nor does Anne expect him to propose to her again, given that she turned him down so long ago.

As the film progresses, we see Anne come out of her shell. Slowly, she breaks away from her empty-headed father and his fascination with power and fashion, as well as her bratty big sister’s control. She becomes a woman who can make her own decisions, standing firm when others demand she change her mind or do something they want her to do or believe is best for her. Eventually, she tells the man who still loves her that she does love him in return and that she will marry him.

The best scene in the whole film is also the only time we see Anne and Wentworth kiss. As a circus pulls into town Anne and her future husband clasp hands, with the camera taking special care to hover over their hands before this happens. While the world, represented by the circus, rattles on down the street and turns right, Anne and her beloved walk in the opposite direction. They are arm in arm as they converse quietly together.

That is all I am revealing about the film, readers. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, especially the scene I described above. Persuasion was written, I believe, when Jane Austen was at the top of her craft. Her first stories are marvelous tales, full of action, intrigue, and wit with teeth. But Persuasion is the cream of the crop. And I do not say that lightly!

If you can, readers, find Persuasion and view it. It is a chick flick, but it is a chick flick with style. Not many can claim that and get away with it.

See ya around!

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Book Review: The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

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I am not usually interested in romantic fiction. The romantic fiction I typically enjoy has derring-do, villains of various and sundry levels of evil, the occasional explosion, and a hero and heroine who fall in love as they fight side by side to stop the bad guy (think Lord of the Rings). That is my preferred romantic fiction; I do not enjoy stories about summers where girls run into eligible guys who somehow just happen to walk into their small towns.

So when a friend of mine insisted I read Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, I agreed to take a look at it. My compadre and I have similar views of so-called “harlequin romances” and, since Georgette Heyer was a favorite of this friend’s, I figured, “What could go wrong?”

I was not disappointed. Georgette Heyer was a British writer who specialized in writing romances set in the centuries around the 1800s. Her fiction is a great deal like Jane Austen’s – except she wrote her books in the twentieth century, while Austen wrote about what she saw around her in the early 1800s.

Heyer’s work has received untold acclamation for its historic authenticity. I cannot say anything about that, since I do not really bother with it beyond how it affects the ways the characters behave. Nor do I take the time to verify the accuracy of the historical details.

It is not that I do not like historical accuracy; it is simply that I do not know enough about the latter to comment on it, and I have not the time to confirm it. Setting is always a big seller and it always will be. I like the film Avatar entirely because of its setting of jungles, floating mountains, and bioluminescent plants and animals. In this movie, all the rest can go hang.

These diversions aside, what can you expect from The Talisman Ring? A rip-roaring good time, for a start! Heyer’s romantic fiction, more so than Jane Austen’s, is almost always sprinkled with comedy. In fact, one might say her works are romantic comedies. For all I know, that is how they are classified.

Anyway, The Talisman Ring starts out with Sir Tristram Shield arriving to see his uncle, Baron Sylvester Lavenham, who is barely hanging on to “this mortal coil.” In fact, it is probably only a few days before he will kick the bucket.

Shield apparently has no love or concern for his uncle. Shield appears cold and unfeeling, though he has a sense of humor and an honorable, kind heart. At the same time, he is eminently sensible and practical, and he sees no reason to go around wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Shield goes up to see his uncle and final matters are discussed, among them the fact that Shield is thirty and unmarried, and the last of his line. In typical aristocratic fashion, this is something he wants to rectify somewhere in the near future.

Staying at Sylvester’s house are Shield’s cousins: Basil, the heir to Sylvester’s fortune and a fop, and Eustacie, the men’s seventeen year old French cousin. Sylvester got her out of France just ahead of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and so she was spared going to the guillotine in a tumbrel. Sylvester wants her and Shield to marry, simply for convenience.

Times being what they are, both Shield and Eustacie see the sense in this. But Eustacie proves to be a romantic with a desire for adventure, and Shield is unable to wrap his mind around the girl’s fantasies. To top it off, Basil is mincing around the mansion, sighing and purring to his cousins, waiting for Sylvester to kick off and wondering over the whereabouts of their other cousin, Ludovic Lavenham, who is the direct heir to the old man’s fortune.

Upon hearing about cousin Ludovic, Eustacie is at once curious. As far as she knows, she has only two cousins – Basil and Shield. Who is Ludovic and why has she never heard of him before now? Shield tries to avoid the subject, but Eustacie is determined to know, and so Basil obliges her.

Apparently, Ludovic was the debonair, dashing heir of Sylvester Lavenham. He was a dead shot with a pistol and, like all good gentlemen of the time, he liked to gamble. He would go out with his friends and have a game every other evening.

Well, the last time he was at one of these card games, Ludovic was losing. So he bet the most valuable thing he had on him – his talisman ring, a signet ring that was the heirloom of his family and virtually priceless. Ludovic lost the bet – and the ring – to one of the other players. A few days later, Ludovic went to redeem the ring, since he promised that whoever won it would get the money he could not bet at the game as soon as he could arrange it.

Except the winner of the card game denied that Ludovic had said this and attempted to keep the ring for himself. Ludovic got drunk that night, then headed out to have a duel with the crass fellow and get the ring back. Shield stopped him, sent him home, and tried to meet the man in order to reason with him. However, he and Ludovic had barely parted ways before a shot rang out! (Cue suspenseful music!)

Shield doubled back and found the winner of the talisman ring dead in the woods, the ring nowhere on his person. When questioned, Ludovic said he had shot at an owl and missed. He did not encounter the man that night and did not have the ring on him the next day. Knowing that this defense would not hold up in court, Shield and Sylvester sent Ludovic overseas, where English law could not touch him. So Eustacie learns as much as anyone knows about Ludovic.

Somewhere in the next couple of days, Sylvester dies. With Sylvester’s death, Basil wants Shield to try and find Ludovic. In all the fuss, Basil was the only one who believed Ludovic’s claim of innocence; that he had in fact shot at an owl and, being drunk, managed to miss it – he who never missed a target in his life. Shield says no, but Basil quietly says, “I think you should.”

Meanwhile, Eustacie comes to the conclusion that Shield is very un-romantic. He does not think of, nor does he crave, adventure. Well, if he does not want any of that, then she does not want to marry him! So a few days after Sylvester’s death and funeral, she sneaks out to catch the midnight stage to London to escape Shield and boredom.

What she gets is caught. On her way to the stage station she is discovered by smugglers – or rather, rum runners. Their leader is a certain romantic fellow (*cough* Ludovic *cough*) who charms Eustacie at once. However, the law catches on to the runners’ presence and, to buy his men time to get away, Ludovic leads the lawmen on a merry chase – with Eustacie sitting before him in the saddle!

During the chase, Ludovic is shot. Eustacie takes him to a nearby inn (where Ludovic has stored his illegal wines on previous occasions, and they know him). There, Ludovic is patched up, and Eustacie meets Miss Sarah Thane, the sister of a Justice of the Peace. Sarah and her brother are staying at the inn because her brother has a cold – and he likes the wine too much to up and leave just yet. Eustacie explains her and Ludovic’s situation to Sarah, who has to hide her mirth at the youthful exuberance of the girl. Sarah Thane agrees to help Eustacie protect Ludovic and find the man who framed him for murder – and so partaking in the adventure she admitted she had always craved.

Well of course Ludovic was framed! Dear readers, I am shocked – shocked! – that you should disbelieve his story! Quite surely, Shield shot the man, blamed Ludovic for it, and stole the talisman ring! He even collects such trinkets. How could he not be the villain of this piece?

*Sigh.* Eventually Sarah and Eustacie later agree that Shield is not the perpetrator. But they agree to this only after Shield has arrived at the inn, had an argument with a recuperating Ludovic, and stood by listening to them try and fit him in to the villain’s mold. Sadly, he is not a square peg and he fits roundly in a nice circular hole, but he takes the savaging of his character with rare good humor. Though, since Shield is a bit cold to outward appearances, you have to pay attention to see that he is highly amused by all the wild theorizing.

So then who murdered the man, stole the talisman ring, and framed Ludovic for it all? You will have to read the book to find that out, readers! I highly recommend it. If you are not laughing by chapter – oh – four, then call me a Zaber Fang’s uncle!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian