Persuasion 2022

So, I have said before that I am a sucker for a Persuasion adaptation. I think that together with Pride and Prejudice it is my favourite Jane Austen novel. The new 2022 Netflix version arrived just before I went on holiday and I got around to watching it during my holiday as soon as I had the time and headspace for it.

It stars Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Cosmo Jarvis as Frederick Wentworth, Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter, Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russel and the marvelous Henry Golding as William Elliot.

I saw that the movie was trashed in reviews and in honesty I didn’t think it was that bad. It wasn’t great but not bad. I don’t mind adaptations veering off from the original source as long as it is well done and I have been very pleasantly surprised with some modern takes on books I love (like, for instance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), so I thought I could maybe enjoy this too. I read this review on Roger Ebert and I think it is the review I most agree with. I especially liked what it said about it being a pop-culture full-circle moment:

If anything, director Carrie Cracknell’s “Persuasion” achieves an intriguing pop-culture full-circle moment. Austen influenced “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and now Bridget herself seems to have influenced Dakota Johnson’s thoroughly charming portrayal of Anne Elliot. There’s lots of drinking red wine straight from the bottle, crying in the tub and lying around in bed, narrating her romantic woes with a familiar, self-effacing wit. She also repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, “Fleabag”-style, with an amusingly dry aside or a well-timed eye roll. Anne jokes that she’s “thriving,” and clearly she is anything but, but she’s so winning in her state of loss that we can’t help but root for her.

Warning: read on from here at your own discretion as there are some spoilers ahead (and pert opinions) in this review!

So, yes, this Anne is a little less, well Anne, and more Bridget Jones and once you get over that it’s OK. I didn’t even mind the fourth wall thing so much either, it gave a nice background narration to the story. I also read a lot of criticism on the language like Anne calling Frederick her “ex”, which yes, was weird, but, apart from it raising my eyebrows now and again, I could get over that and it really didn’t bother me so much. Some of the modernisms even really amused me, like Anne showing the ‘playlist’ Frederick had once put together for her.

I did like Dakota Johnson as this Anne, even though she’s not the Anne I envision, but that’s all down to the script in this version of the story. However, this Anne also did have some awful moments, like for instance that scene at the dinner party where she blurts out that she was proposed to by someone else. The Anne I know would never have said that and even for this Anne it was a very nonsensical thing to do. So yes, there were some real misses here in the script. And yes, she may have been a little snide and too self-satisfied with her own cleverness, but I could laugh at that. Overall I did like this Anne well enough and didn’t even mind her love affair with the wine bottle.

I also really liked Richard E. Grant in this, he is perfect as Anne’s very vain father, Sir Walter…

… and Nikki Amuka-Bird did a nice job of being Anne’s confidante.

The scene stealer in every scene he was in, though, was Henry Golding. So charming and a little wicked and smart. I swear he could level anyone with just one arrogant look. And that crinkle nose thing he does is irresistible!

In a link Herba shared on Twitter, he is one of the names mentioned for possibly being considered as the new James Bond. I’m not a huge Bond fan but for Henry Golding I would go see it on the big screen.

I also liked spoiled sister Mary played by Mia McKenna-Bruce. In the 2007 TV adaptation she was awful, but this Mary was quite perfect in being very annoying and self-centered and in all her spoiled mumblings she occasionally even did make sense. I love that line about men always getting out of disagreeable things, I’m really glad they kept that line in here.

So, with quite a few positives, what are the negatives you ask? Well, first and foremost that was Captain Wentworth for me. What a boring sap he was in this! I really couldn’t understand what made Anne pine for him so. What makes Wentworth Wentworth is that he has lost his youthful innocence, he has hardened and has become a self-assured man of the world whose pride was deeply wounded when Anne rejected him in the past. He is hell-bent on erasing her from his life, he perfectly hides his vulnerabilities and he is dismissive of Anne and yet in little miniscule details you get the suspicion he still cares for her and can’t quite let her go. The miracle of Wentworth is that he at the end can let go of his hurt and can soften again.

This Wentworth had nowhere near the stature of man of the world, despite his uniform, but I could forgive that. What I couldn’t forgive was his mooning all over the place instead of trying his best to ignore Anne. This just didn’t seem like a man who had grown in the intervening years since the break up. There was a scene at the beach where he wants to be friends with Anne again. What on earth was that about? It was absolutely cringeworthy. I think the “We’re worse than exes, we’re friends” bit may have been the absolute low point. Cosmo Jarvis is, I am sure, a gifted actor but this sappy puppy-dog-eyed Wentworth and his seeking Anne’s friendship was so not it!

From the first meeting he was just too openly soft with her and that just did not feel right. I feared then that this was not my kind of Captain Wentworth and as the film progressed I was sadly proved right. It’s a pretty bad scritping idea when you take away the central tension between Anne and Frederick in Persuasion.

I know it’s tough to touch on the standard of Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth in the 1995 adaptation but even other adaptations I have seen, whether good or bad, they at least did get Wentworth right. This adaptation totally didn’t.

And that magical letter scene at the end. Oh man, why did they have to mess with Jane Austen in that? The 2007 version was awful, the 1995 version was perfection…

… and this version was… meh… I mean, the kissing and hugging were fine (and that end song was very fitting and sweet) but the letter just wasn’t.

So, yeah, I could get over the character of Anne being different and the modernizations but I just could not get over Wentworth and the dynamic with Anne just not being right. That dynamic is supposed to be the heart of the story and it really wasn’t. I admit images at the end were evocative…

…. but other than that I’m sure the Mr. Elliot in this Persuasion would have been way more interesting for this Anne, he was the only one who could match her wit and insights and even playfulness.

OK, maybe not, as he is devious and slimy, so maybe Anne would have been better off with neither of these men and best on her own.

In ranking the Persuasion adaptations I have seen, I thought a Modern Persuasion Hallmark style version from 2020 was the absolut lowest of the lowest, the 2007 adaptation was pretty disastrous in some areas but with a few highlights (and Rupert Penry-Jones being the most watchable part in that), this adaptation was semi-alright, the 1971 adaptation was alright, but over long and somewhat stiff, and for me the 1995 Persuasion safely remains the best adaptation of the story so far.

Holiday reading

Herba tagged me on Twitter in a challenge to link to a book review on my blog. To my shame, I admit that I don’t really blog so much about books but I did link to my longest (and most critical) blog post about the book that described Audrey Hepburn’s youth during World War II in and near Arnhem.

While I don’t write about books enough, it doesn’t mean I never read and especially during summer holidays I catch up on reading more. I did so again this year and that Twitter challenge made me think maybe I should blog about that for a change (thank you for the push, Herba!).

I had tons of books on my e-reader but on my second day on holiday, my e-reader gave up and wouldn’t start up anymore! I’ve only had my Kobo e-reader for about a year and a half. I contacted their customer service and when they couldn’t solve the issue, they told me to get in touch with the shop I bought it from. Luckily, I have a back up of my e-book stash on my laptop (that came with us on our journey) and I was able to transfer some books to my phone. I wasn’t too happy reading from my phone, but I did persist and finished 5 books in the 3 weeks that we traveled. Not bad, I thought!

I have a lot of easy reading on my e-reader and I really needed that at the start of my holiday.

I started with a romance novel by Talia Hibbert called Act Your Age, Eve Brown. The flighty Eve is challenged by her parents to finally grow up and ‘get a real job’. She meets a very uptight B&B owner called Jacob, some chaos ensues, and she ends up running his B&B kitchen. Of course, they fall in love.

This was the perfect easy read to start my holiday with. I enjoyed the characters and the story. Apparently it is the third book in a series about three sisters finding love, so in due time I think I’ll try the other two as well.

I next read Book Lovers by Emily Henry, another romance novel. It’s about a high powered city girl book agent Nora who meets book editor Charlie in a small town. Not her first time meeting him, during previous occasions they did not hit it off at all, but in this small town they do while they also get to work together.

It sounds a bit like a Hallmark movie, except that this is a bit of an anti-Hallmark plot where small town life is cute enough but really nothing for the heroine who sticks with her big city love and life. Really fun book to read as well, with Nora finding what she really wants to do in life, with the help of Charlie and her sister (who does prefer small town life). The author even mentions that Hallmark movies drove her to write this book, which is a fun fact for me as a watcher of (some) Hallmark movies.

Because I was enjoying the ease of reading romance novels, I picked another one, Marriage for One by Ella Maise as my next read. It’s about a young woman named Rose entering into a marriage of convenience with a guy she doesn’t know named Jack. It’s a business deal – as her husband he gets to inherit the building of her uncle who passed away and she finally gets the dream of opening her own coffeeshop.

This was the least good read of the summer for me. It was OK, but I got some creepy, stalkerish vibes from Jack, even though he acted out of love. There was some cuteness but the power inbalance in this book bugged me and the chauvinistic condition made by the dead uncle that only Rose’s husband could inherit bugged me too. It was all a bit too contrived but there was a happy ending, so there’s that.

I next needed something better to read, so I picked the non-fiction book She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey. It’s a book chronicling how these two reporters broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and also about the sexual abuse accusations against Judge Kavanaugh before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

It was a fascinating read, for me especially the Weinstein section was very interesting as I was more aware of that in the news than the Kavanaugh case. It really showed how understandably difficult it was for women to go on the record with this and kudos to those who finally did, with Ashley Judd as the forerunner. I also liked the end of the book when the authors described a meeting between all these women where they all discussed how the #MeToo scandal had affected their lives. I wish more of those conversations and insights could have been shared. The book gets a bit journalistic technical here and there but I really did find it quite riveting.

And finally, I returned to another romance novel called Indigo by Beverly Jenkins. It had a really interesting theme as it’s about a woman, Hester, who escaped slavery as a child and is now part of the Michigan underground railroad, offering runaway slaves help to flee to other free states or to Canada. She hides and cares for an injured man who turns out to be one of the heroes of the underground (who also happens to be extremely rich) and they fall in love.

I found the setting of the story very compelling but the love story itself somewhat sluggish and the sex scenes a bit too long. The second half of the book seemed to jump too quickly from the (more interesting) underground stories to the sex scenes, which annoyed me somewhat. All in all, not too a bad read but I’d love to read more and better fiction (not necessarily romance) on this topic. So, if anyone has recommendations, please do share!

I stopped reading once I got home again. So many other things to do and some family issues to deal with (my aunt is not well mentally right how, which is so unlike her, and that requires a lot of love and attention) and I have also started my volunteer work and my regular work again.

I was able to send in my Kobo e-reader for repairs. Luckily it had a two year warranty and when it became clear that it could not be repaired I was refunded my whole purchase price from a year and a half ago. I immediately used the money to order a new e-reader, this time going for Pocketbook instead of Kobo as I read that the e-reader freezing up problem seems to be quite common in Kobo readers. I hope it’s not the case for Pocketbook e-readers and if it is, please let it happen during the two year warranty period that I also have for this one.

I love seeing my Charlotte Brontë and John Thornton (picture of a beautiful bookmark Kate once sent me) screensavers again on my pretty new e-reader…

… and hope to get into the swing of reading again soon (and maybe blogging about it more too).

What is it with Persuasion?

I love Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Persuasion adaptations and as I have grown older, I think it has surpassed even my love of Pride and Prejudice. A year ago I read there were two Persuasion adaptations in the making and I was curious to see how those two would portray the story and also how much they would differ. I now understand that the version with Australian actress Sarah Snook is not happening anymore, which is a pity. She says in an interview with Vogue magazine from last fall: “Case in point: Jane Austen’s Persuasion with director Mahalia Belo, which was meant to be her next project. “The short story is that Netflix decided to greenlight their own, so Fox abandoned the one we were doing, which is disappointing because it was a great script and a director I really wanted to work with,” she says with a shrug. “But had I been doing that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come back to Australia so soon and see family and friends.”

Well, that Netflix version is now finally coming to the screen on July 15th and today a trailer was released:

The cast looks good!

I’m not a huge Dakota Johnson fan but she could be alright in this. I don’t know Cosmo Jarvis who plays Frederick Wentworth but he does look like he has some charisma. I wonder if his charisma can beat Henry Golding’s charisma. I really like Golding, I think he could have made an excellent Wentworth as well but he also looks like he can imbue Mr Elliot with just the right amount of charm and ambiguity. I also love the casting of Richard E. Grant and in the snippet we see of him he already looks perfect as the very vain father of Anne. Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell looks interesting too. I didn’t know her name before I looked it up but I did know her face instantly from bits and pieces she’s done on TV where she somehow always manages to capture my attention.

For me an adaptation really doesn’t need to be the same as the book (I unexpectedly really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for instance) but it does need to capture it’s spirit somewhat. In this trailer, I do wonder about a friendship storyline that is hinted at – one of the big points in Persuasion is that Captain Wentworth is wounded and therefore outwardly very dismissive of Anne Elliot, so much so that there is no question of a renewed friendship until closer to the end of the story. Also, Captain Wentworth looks less stoic and unforgiving in this trailer so I do wonder how that will all work out. There also seems to be Anne breaking the fourth wall in this, which could be either very cool or very annoying.

No matter how good or how bad, I am very excited for this and I will definitely watch it as soon as I can. This adaptation has big shoes to fill, because I do love the Amanda Root / Ciaran Hinds version from 1995…

… but I don’t think it can be as bad as a Hallmark-ish version that was released two years ago (with the uninspired title of Modern Persuasion), which was quite terrible. I’m really curious on the take of this adaptation.

Besides the film/TV adaptations I also like reading Persuasion book adaptations and I just happened to finish reading one over the weekend. Even if the adaptations can’t always equal the original, the original storyline is quite strong and therefore the adaptations are really enjoyable for me too. So, I keep going back to them. Somehow I can’t seem to get enough of this story. I do keep wondering what attracts me to all these Persuasion re-tellings. Is it because the story is about a slightly more mature love? About second chances? Is it about learning from your mistakes or possible errors of judgment but also being grateful for them because they brought you to where you are today? It’s all of the above, I guess, and more. At the end of the book Anne Elliot says this:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now. To me, she was in the place of a parent. Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice. But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with;

I really like that. Even though the choice she made then caused her a lot of heartache, it still was the right choice for her at that time. It made her who she is but also drove Captain Wentworth to become as accomplished as he is. It also shows that timing is everything. There is a time to listen and take advice, there is a time to grow up and learn, there is a time when you can let experience lead you to another choice.

One of the great things about Jane Austen novels is how the main characters learn to know themselves better and what they want out of life and I think Anne may be Austen’s most self-aware character. She has loved and lost and has had time to absorb and analyse, thus maybe making her more wise and more empathetic than other Austen characters. She has had time to reflect and now knows who she is, she is level-headed and capable and she assuredly knows that if given a second chance she will grab it with both hands. I think it’s Captain Wentworth who is forced to make a bigger learning curve in this story, learning to deal with his petty anger, learning to understand himself, learning nuance (her youthful choice against him didn’t mean she didn’t love him) and finally accepting the fact that Anne, being steadfast and wise and empathetic, is indeed the best woman for him out there. I love Anne and that she stays true to herself and I love that she is able to inspire Wentworth to know himself better.

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last completed novel. It is possibly her most nuanced one as well (despite also having some biting characterizations) and I think I will forever love coming back to it. Ah, the stories Austen could have told had she only lived longer!

My Jane Eyre has come home

When I was 8 or 9 years old my mother gave me a simplifed version of Jane Eyre to read and I was instantly hooked on the story. It has remained a favourite book of mine since. In fact, I had two simplifed Jane Eyre versions. I remember with one liking the text more and with the other I loved the images. The cover of the one version was this dark pink and it had some drawn illustrations. The other version was the quicker read and it had pictures in them of what I thought then was a movie, but I later found out was a 1973 BBC TV mini series. I would read the pink book and then study the photos in the TV version book I had and read some passages there too and I would do that endlessly.

I cherished my two Jane Eyres and they moved with me from Israel to Germany when I was 10. In the 6 years that I lived in Germany we moved three times. I think that during one of those moves (I’m guessing the last one) I couldn’t find the books anymore but there were lots of boxes with books in storage in the cellar of my dad’s office at the time. I vaguely remember going through those boxes, looking for my Jane Eyres but not being able to find them. I always figured they’d turn up in time but they never did.

At 16 I went to a boarding school in The Netherlands (so didn’t take much stuff with me) and then at 18 we moved into a house in Leiden (NL) and all my stuff from Germany was moved to The Netherlands. Those boxes of books came too. It was all unpacked but my Jane Eyres weren’t there. I have scoured bookshelves at my parents’ house and later at my siblings’ places but those books were nowhere to be found. It was around then (at about 18 or 19) when I first read the full Charlotte Brontë story of Jane Eyre. I can still remember lying in my bed in my attic room reading it and falling in love with it all over again.

Every time I went into a second-hand book store, I’d check to see if one of my simplified Jane Eyre books was available but I never had any luck. Then the internet came and I searched especially for the one with those BBC pictures in it. Try finding a simplified Jane Eyre book online and see how many versions you can find. I can tell you from experience there are hundreds!

A few years ago I thought I’d finally found it. I had found out that it had been published by Longman in 1976, I had an ISBN number and the bookseller’s front cover image indicated it was the version with those BBC images in it. When the book arrived, however, it turned out to be a different edition. The ISBN number was indeed the same but the publication year was different, it was not my version and it didn’t have any pictures. I gave up on searching for a long time after that.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was looking for that Ronald Colman biography and found a second-hand book site called Abe Books. I thought, what the heck, I’ll try looking for my Jane Eyre again and lo and behold, I found it! It was available from a bookstore in Germany. I ordered it, hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed yet again, and today it arrived. I tore the envelope open and there she was, just as I remembered: Sorcha Cusack (older sister of Sinéad Cusack, by the way, who played Mrs Thornton in North and South) as Jane Eyre on the cover…

Yes, this is my Jane Eyre! It even looked as pre-used and loved as my own edition had been. I just can’t tell you how stoked I am: this is the end of an approximately 35 year search! I leafed through the book and the images and even after all these years, they all felt so extremely familiar.

I remember back in 1995 when I fell in love with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in that year’s BBC production of Pride and Prejudice

… he reminded me of an image of Mr Rochester in my old Jane Eyre book. Of course, I didn’t have the book handy at the time to compare but now that I see this image, I can completely see again why I made that association. The comparison really wasn’t so far-fetched…

I saw this 1973 BBC series some 10 or 15 years ago for the first time and Michael Jayston (who plays Edward Rochester in it) didn’t remind me of Colin at all. He seemed lighter, a little more fair haired then I remembered from the book. I took screenshots of images that I thought might correspond with the images I still had in my head of my book, but they never seemed right. Now I understand why. The image in the book is in black and white, making Edward Rochester seem darker, and is also from a slightly different angle which makes me think this is a stills photograph and not so much a screenshot from the actual series.

I think this evening I may read through bits of that simplified text again, see what I think of it now. I also think that I may start the search for that other simplified Jane Eyre book that I remember, although I do have less details to go on as I don’t have film images or anything that can roughly date that book for me. So far the search terms “Jane Eyre” and “simplified” and “pink cover” have done nothing for me. No matter, I have at least got this one ‘back’ – my Jane Eyre has come home to me.

Preoccupations of late

It feels like I have posted so little of late but when I look at what I posted this past January, I’ve not been as quiet as I thought I’d been. With so many things that cross my path (or my screen) I so often find myself thinking, “ooh, I could blog about this”! Recently, however, it has felt like I’ve been considering blogging less and less and I’m not sure why. It’s not like I’m more busy than usual, I’m not in one of my binge-phases and I’m not even feeling more low than usual (which does tend to happen to me in winter). I just have little to say of late, it seems.

This afternoon it came to me that I had not written anything new on my blog in close to two weeks (the two last posts were celebration posts I had written in advance and had scheduled for publication) and that feels long ago. So, today, to get back into the swing of things, here are a few things that have been preoccupying me of late:

  • Last weekend Mr E and I went away to a hotel in the woods in the east near the German border (and we also visited the town of Kleve in Germany) to celebrate our 30 years of being together. There were of course Covid restrictions to adhere to and we kept our distance everywhere, so it was all good. Even though it wasn’t far, it was lovely to be away for a few days, just the two of us.
  • I am getting to that age where the first friends of my generation are becoming grandmothers! My good friend’s daughter, in her early 20s, just gave birth to a baby daughter the other day. I’m really stoked and will go shopping for a little gift to send to the USA tomorrow morning.
  • Only two more weeks to go and then I can start in my new job! It’ll be 50% in the new job / 50% in my old job for the first few weeks but I’m so looking forward to that! I have just about zero motivation left in my current job and am happy that I can slowly let go of things and say “count me out for that!”
  • Mini me has started entry exams for two applied sciences universities. She has a very specific area of study that she wants to do and there aren’t many spots open in the field but she’s giving it a shot. If she doesn’t get in, she can always do a longer route to get where she wants to end up but of course we’re hoping for the shorter and specific route. Fingers crossed!
  • My main actor squeeze Richard Armitage has more new voice work coming up. Yeah, I won’t be hearing that as audiobooks and I just don’t go together well. One of the new projects is apparently also his voicing of the baddie in a game called Warhammer. I’d never heard of that game before and when I asked Junior he said he knew of the game but had never played it. As I was walking through a shop in Germany this past weekend, I saw this. Apparently that game is a pretty big deal!
  • I am avoiding the news a lot recently. Boris Johnson, Covid nonsense, the scariness of the Russia – Ukraine situation are so frustrating and there is nothing I can do about that. So, I choose to switch off the news and just stick to reading a digest now and again to stay in the loop a bit.
  • I’m reading a book on my e-reader right now called What Makes a Marriage Last : 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue (I’ve heard of them before but they are no big names over here). I’m reading the book because some of the couples they interviewed really intrigued me and, being in a long-term relationship myself, the subject also intrigued me.

    I could do with a little less of Marlo and Phil inserting themselves and their situations in the interviews and sometimes I wish for a little more elaboration when something that I feel is important is skipped over. Still, it really is quite an interesting read. Each interview is about 10-15 pages long, so I can read a few at a time and then let it go for a while (I still have about 1/3 of the book to go).

    There are many differences in how married life is shaped for these couples but the common ground does seem to be to stay connected and interested in the other, in allowing the other to be themselves and in communicating and actually liking the other. I can attest to all of that. I keep on thinking about how my own marriage would be portrayed in such a book. Maybe I should write my own chapter sometime.
  • Last but not least, on another personal note: I had a huge post sitting in my drafts for over a month on how annoying my mother can be, illustrated by some examples over Christmas. I finally deleted that post today and decided to celebrate her instead because, despite any annoyances (and I know that I sometimes annoy her too), she really is awesome and I’m glad she’s still around to get annoyed at!

So, yeah, I have been preoccupied with some things. Maybe now I can find my way back to actually wanting to blog about them more.